Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Alexander Pope first said this, although the Vicar claims it was UB40.
Yesterday was April Fools’ Day, and the Parish of Forton marked the occasion by keeping the feast of the Annunciation (we had to transfer it from 25th March because Easter got in the way). Now, April Fools’ Day we don’t know much about, as we don’t like getting out of bed before midday, but we do like the Feast of the Annunciation. This is primarily because our computer spellchecker always wants to rename the Lord’s herald as the Archangel Gerbil, but also because it’s a good day to think about angels and fools.
Here’s our starter for ten: is there any place where angels fear to tread? We’re not sure that angels can actually be frightened (although we’re always a bit nervous of paper avalanches when treading on the Vicar’s desk). The Blessed Virgin Mary must have been pretty scared when a luminous stranger appeared in her front room, but what about Gabriel? After all, he had something pretty big to ask of her. Was he worried that she might say no?
And what about fools rushing in? Here’s a young girl who’s being asked to get pregnant and have a baby out of wedlock, risking disapproval, shame, ostracism and very possibly death. She’s going to end up travelling the length of the country to have the baby in a cowshed, and then flee the country when someone tries to kill him. Then the baby will grow up, leave home, wander around for a while annoying pretty much everyone with his radical ideas, and eventually get himself arrested. And while all his so-called friends have abandoned him, she will have to watch him being tortured and killed by the hated Imperial regime. And what does Mary say to this wonderful opportunity? She says yes. If that’s not the definition of foolishness, we don’t know what is.
But then, the Gospel is all about foolishness. Human society has its own wisdom, where the wealthy and the violent and the unscrupulous always come out on top. God’s wisdom is the other way round. It’s all about rushing in, daring to love, risking everything, even when it seems utterly foolish in the world’s eyes.
Angels can’t do that. Perhaps it’s all that time they spend near God, but they’re just a bit too perfect. It’s not really in their nature to make mistakes and mess it all up the way you humans do. Being immortal doesn’t lend itself to getting hot under the collar about stuff, or being angry or scared or passionate or vulnerable.
And that’s why God loves people: not in spite of your foolishness, but because of it. In the ultimate act of love and salvation, God didn’t just send an angel to sort out creation and do the whole redemption thing. God chose to take on human nature in all its frailty and foolishness; to have a real mum, and friends and neighbours; to be part of a human society; to feel joy and pain and anger and love in just the same way that everyone else does.
So maybe the message of the Annunciation is that the fools have got it right after all. The Kingdom is built by people who rush in and risk it all. If you want to know how to do it, look at Jesus Christ.
And if you still want to know how to do it, find someone who doesn’t care what the world thinks of them. Someone who gives love freely time and time again, even to people who let them down; who runs around madly and has fun, and doesn’t care about looking undignified; who is so at peace with God, the world and themself that they can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. We think you’ll find that this someone will be a cat.
P.S. The Vicar bored us for quite a while pondering this question: When the Annunciation falls in Eastertide, is it more appropriate to say the Angelus or the Regina Coeli? Perhaps some young fogey with a tweed jacket and a well-thumbed copy of Fortescue & O’Connell could write in and enlighten her. We believe she knew several at Staggers.