Photo: The Annunciation. Peter Candid 1585. Flickr.com
Of the most compelling aspects of the advent story for me is the significance of angels, dreams and Holy Spirit encounters. These seem to reserved for heroes in the Old Testament, but as soon as the story of Jesus begins there are all kinds of people who hear God’s voice and are impacted by his Spirit. This is deliberate, on the part of the writers, and also, I think on the part of the inspirational author, God himself. BUY THIS IS THAT
The idea of angels speaking, and all kinds of supernatural moments sounds fantastic – both in the sense that it appears untrue, and also in the sense that its brilliant and amazing. I’ve only consciously thought I heard angels once – and that was a sound like harmonics rather than Gabriel greeting me with tidings of good news. And I have had significant dreams at times but none that have been clear enough to act on the next day – they have tended to be revelations of what is deep in my heart and mind that have then helped my understanding as I have pondered them. But if these stories in the bible are the beginning of a new age of God’s communication and our understanding, then what does it actually look like in practice today?
When I then read about Jesus, there is some angelic activity reported and there are dramatic moments of heaven breaking over him, but in everyday life he tends to hear his Father’s voice in prayer. When I then read about his followers, and the early church, I see that the age of the Spirit is mainly seen when people get together to pray worship, and reflect on scripture. There are dreams and dramatic encounters, too, but there is also the assumption that God is always and definitely speaking, and we ourselves can definitely be a part of that process in delivering his word to others or receiving it from others.
Over the last couple of months, I have been practicing looking at the bible, praying and hearing from other Christians in order to become more used to hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice. So, when we worship together, it is less for God’s sake and more for our own. I’m sure he loves to hear our beautiful singing, but more than that, he loves to pour out his Spirit so that we can come close to him, know him, experience him and be directed by him. We worship God because we appreciate, love and wonder at who he is and what he has done. That experience then becomes the primary place to know the gift of the Spirit bringing wisdom, revelation, challenge and provocation. Ironically, worship is God’s gift to us rather than just our gift to him.
The apostle Paul writes about how being together in worship and prayer is the place of receiving the Spirit. Therefore, I know I need to make sure I am involved in these activities with others because it will be light and life for me. Paul also writes about the word of God being like a sharp sword – a scalpel that divides, separates and makes things clear. Again, hearing people bring helpful teaching, reflecting on a verse as I’m out walking, reading and rereading and studying the bible, all means that my imagination becomes alert and equipped for a transforming word from God.
All this to say that I would like to live like they did in those advent days. I can’t simply hope for an angel to turn up. But I can worship, meditate, pray, and read the bible. And I know that these things put me in that new age of the Spirit. Which means that I can hear God’s voice, let it shape me and also then act on it. Advent is the way to live, dreams and angels or not.