The Bible names only one of the ANGELS who appear in connection with JESUS’ birth. The GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE states that the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin MARY to tell her that she would bear a son whom she should name Jesus (Luke 1:26-35). Christians call this event the ANNUNCIATION.
GABRIEL IN THE BIBLE
Who is Gabriel and why was he sent to bear such important news? Religious scholars often begin a discussion of the angel by analyzing the meaning of his name. Some say it means “God is my warrior”; others translate it as “man of God.” Still others believe it should be translated as “power of God” or “hero of God.” Gabriel is one of only two angels mentioned by name in the Hebrew scriptures, or Old Testament (the other is Michael). In the Book of Daniel, Gabriel helps Daniel interpret his visions and informs him of God’s plan for the end of time (Daniel 8-12). Gabriel returns again in the New Testament, or Christian scriptures. In the Gospel according to Luke he appears to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife will conceive a child, John, who will serve as the forerunner to Jesus Christ (Luke 1:11-20). Shortly afterwards Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary to announce her forthcoming pregnancy (Luke 1:26-38). Thus the Bible tends to cast Gabriel as God’s herald. Because he frequently brings news of God’s doings to human beings, he is sometimes referred to as the Angel of Revelation.
GABRIEL IN CHRISTIAN ART
In the Gospel according to Luke Gabriel identifies himself as someone who “stand[s] in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19). This has led many Christians to conclude that he is one of the few high-ranking angels known as archangels. Over the centuries Christian artists have portrayed Gabriel as a solemn, male figure wearing beautiful robes. In earlier works of art Gabriel often carries a scepter. In more recent works he holds a lily, a symbol of the purity and goodness of the Virgin Mary.
JEWISH AND MUSLIM BELIEFS
Jewish lore assigns Gabriel many different jobs. The Book of Enoch portrays him as an overseer of the Garden of Eden (see also ADAM AND EVE DAY). Other apocryphal texts and legends have shown him as one of the four angels who stand round the throne of God, a participant in the destruction of Sodom and the army of Sennacherib, and one of those who prayed for the world at the time of the Great Flood. Muslims, too, honor the angel Gabriel, whom they know as Jibril. They believe him to be the angel who dictated the Qur’an — the holy book of Islam—to the prophet Muhammad.
Christian lore not only places Gabriel at the scene of Jesus’ birth but also at the scene leading up to Jesus’ death. Perhaps because of his biblical role as a herald, Christian legends have suggested that Gabriel was the unnamed angel that brought the good news of Jesus’ birth to the SHEPHERDS (Luke 2:8-12). Another folk belief places Gabriel in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prayed and waited for the men who would come to arrest him and condemn him to death. Both of these tales emphasize Gabriel’s role as the angel of mercy. Michael, by contrast, functions as the angel of judgment. (In Jewish lore these roles are reversed, with Michael serving as the angel of mercy while Gabriel acts as the angel of judgment.)
In 1951 Pope Pius XII gave Gabriel a new role to play, modernizing his ancient task as a transmitter of messages. He declared Gabriel to be the patron saint of all those who work in the field of telecommunications. Gabriel also serves as the traditional patron of messengers, diplomats, clergy members, postal workers, and stamp collectors.