May is devoted to Mary, as we have previously discussed. Mary. So many names for the mother of Christmas. Mary, Miriam, Maryam, St. Mary, Mother Mary, Virgin Mary, Blessed Virgin, Holy Mother, Mother of God, Chosen One, Purified One, Truthful One, and maybe thousands more. Natalie and I were discussing in this weeks recording about the role Mary plays in various religions and denominations. Most surprising to many might be the role the Mother of God plays in the Qur’an.
Mary is worshipped and honored by Muslims and is a key figure in Islam. She is the mother of Jesus (Isa) who is created through divine intervention. In the Qur’an Mary is called Maryam. She is the most honored woman in the holy text and is mentioned more in the Qur’an more than she is in the Christian New Testament. She is the only woman directly mentioned in the entire readings. There are only 8 of nearly 150 chapters (sura) in the Qur’an named for people and #19 is the only named for a woman, Maryam. Muslims see her most similarly to Roman Catholics, referring to her as “Our Lady”. Muslims share the view of her as a virgin mother of God and she is “exalted above all women of the universe”. They also share in the belief of her immaculate conception- her parents were barren and her mother prayed to God to grant her a child and she was rewarded with the birth of Maryam. Her life chronicled in the Qur’an is almost identical to the events outlined in the Gospel of Luke. She truly is the holiest of women.
You will regularly see lines from her sections in the Qur’an on the mihrab of many mosques, most notably the Hagia Sophia. The mihrab is the important wall that identifies what direction to face towards Mecca. Throughout the Islamic world Maryam is an example to all women and they regularly visit shrines in her name. Having grown up a Roman Catholic this resonates well with me. Mary was always THE example of the perfect Christian woman. Looks like we aren’t alone in our veneration of the Mother of God.
The angel Gabriel plays a major role in our story of the birth of Jesus. In the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke we find the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her of her pregnancy to birth the child of God. But who was this special messenger?
Gabriel is an angel who serves God as a messenger to humans. The name translates to “strength of God”. Gabriel is a rare player in religious history since this angel plays a major role in multiple religions. Gabriel is so often the subject of literature and art that this one angel has come to personify the idea that we all have of what an angel is. In Judaism Gabriel shows up to bring the word of God to Daniel and the jews while in captivity in Babylon. In Christianity Gabriel shows up twice- to announce to Elizabeth the pending birth of John the Baptist and to tell Mary of the child of God she would carry. Christians also await the return of Gabriel to blow the horn announcing the Last Judgment. Islam continues the importance of Gabriel, the angel who brought the teachings and lessons of the Koran to Muhammed over 23 years and accompanied the prophet on his night journey.
Gabriel is considered an archangel by most. An archangel is basically an angel of high rank. There are only 2 archangels recognized in Christianity- Gabriel and Michael. Roman Catholics add in a third with Raphael and Muslims add 2 more- Israfel and Azrael. In most accounting there are actually 7 archangels serving God. The Catholics also name Gabriel as a Saint. Being a messenger Gabriel is the patron saint for broadcasters, telecommunications, diplomats, postal workers, messengers, and stamp collectors. The importance of this angel can not be stressed enough. Even the poet Milton recognizes Gabriel as the most supreme angel as the chief guard over Paradise.
Now here’s the question, is Gabriel a male or female? Quick- what were you thinking as you read? I specifically included no references to gender as I wrote. Seems that Gabriel is uniquely androgynous although most assign a female likeness to the angel (Personally I always thought of Gabriel as a male). Gabriel is also the subject of one of my favorite Christmas songs- Gabriel’s Message. The song is based on an old Basque folk song and directly quotes from the Gospel of Luke. The version of the song I most enjoy is any version performed by Sting. Here’s Sting performing Gabriel’s Message on one of my favorite show. Another great interpretation comes from the group Good Shepherd. For the more traditional rendition you have to go to the King’s College Choir out of Cambridge. If nothing else you must watch this how to video to learn how to play it yourself on piano. Not the mostly jolly holiday tune for sure, but an enriching and reflective spiritual piece on the true meaning of Christmas.