The Song of the Angels: Thoughts on why we glorify God and the peace Jesus brought.

The Song of the Angels

We are now in our third week of Advent and so the third week of the Songs of Christmas.

If you have been following along, you might notice that we have been moving in chronological order.

Mary sings a song when she finds out she is pregnant.

Zechariah breaks into song at the birth of his son.

Today we hear a song sung at the birth of Jesus.

But today’s song is a bit different.

It is not a song of anticipation.

It is a song of proclamation.

We are not waiting for something; something has actually happened.

And, it is not sung by people, but by angels.

But before I talk about that song, I want to digress for a moment.

I know a lot of people who hear this story and think it is a bit hard to believe.

R. Alan Culpepper is a New Testament scholar who wrote the portion of The New Interpreter’s Bible about Luke.

He described our text this way:

Familiar as it is, the Christmas scene often seems to be little more than a fairy tale, a wonderful story that provides a brief escape from the real world we face each day.

Fairy tale?

One reason some might think it’s a fairy tale is because of those angels.

There are a lot of folks who just can’t wrap their brains around the appearance of these otherworldly creatures.

Are there really angels?

Did that really happen?

So, let’s take a moment and talk about angels.

First, are there things, beings, we cannot experience with our senses?

Many physicists think so.

Some propose parallel dimensions.

Things that can only be imagined through mathematics.

But I like the way Paul puts it when he describes Jesus.

Colossians 1: 15-16; 19-20

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. … 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

There are things visible and things invisible.

There are earthly things and heavenly things.

And angels are some of those invisible and heavenly things.

But what are they really?

Angels are heralds.

What is a herald?

A term used to describe a messenger sent by royalty to the people with a message.

An angel’s primary function is to communicate to us messages from God.

What do they look like?

They appear in many different forms in scripture.

To me they seem to take whatever form will make sure the message is delivered and understood by the particular recipient.

Sometimes they take human form, but most often they are ethereal beings, and even then, most often unseen even when delivering a message.

They are basically divine information.

And so, in today’s text, we see an angelic message delivered to shepherds.

Now we need to talk about the shepherds.

Why shepherds?

Maybe because shepherds were the lowest caste in Near Eastern society.

Aloof, dirty, uneducated, loners who were generally considered untrustworthy.

Less respected than even tax collectors.

This was part of the message of the incarnation.

God was coming even to you guys (and they were just guys).

How did the angels appear to the shepherds?

We are given no description.

Even the number is vague.

But they certainly got their message across, didn’t they?

Partly, maybe entirely, in a song.

Why a song?

I can’t say, but music certainly is a universal language, right?

I am reminded of this passage from Frederick Buechner’s novel “Brendan” about the life of St. Brendan the Navigator.

Finn, Brendan’s friend, describes Brendan’s experience of the divine.

“There came angels at last, Finn,” he said. “They were spread out against the sky like a great wreath.  The closest were close enough to touch nearly. The farthest were farther than the stars.  I never saw so many stars.  I could hear the stillness of them they were that still.”

“Lofty and fair beyond telling was the angels’ music,” he said.  “They heard me cry and they answered me.  They weren’t singing to me of the mercy of God, Finn.  Their singing was itself the mercy of God.  Do you think I could ever forget it even if I tried?”

I wonder if that is what the shepherds saw?

And maybe that’s why we think of “choirs of angels” around the birth of Jesus.

Because this event was beyond anything we can imagine or expect.

Emanuel – God with us!

The unseen suddenly seen.

Luke 2: 8-15

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’

There are two things I love to do during December.

On is listening to Christmas music.

Mainly the Christmas carols.

Both festive and spiritually moving.

What’s your favorite carol?

Mine?

“O’ Come All Ye Faithful”.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

All about how we are to respond to the birth of Jesus.

I still choke up a bit on that one.

The other thing I like to do is watch the Christmas TV specials.

Not those sappy Hallmark style dramas.

The old time stuff.

 The Grinch.

Rudolf.

The Muppet Family Christmas.

Any version of “A Christmas Carol”.

Most don’t mention Jesus, but they are still fun.

What’s your favorite?

Mine?

The one that does mention Jesus.

The theologically correct “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

I think we all know the story.

Charlie Brown is depressed because Christmas has become too commercialized.

Even his dog, Snoopy is entered in a house decorating contest.

So, he begins a quest to find the true meaning of Christmas.

He tries to make Christmas mean something by directing the school Christmas play.

He writes Sally’s letter to Santa.

He finally buys a Christmas tree to decorate for the play.

But none of it works.

The Peanuts gang doesn’t listen.

They are easily distracted.

Sally’s defense of a rather materialistic letter to Santa is:

All I want is what I… I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

She is self-centered.

The tree is scorned by the gang because it is a real tree; not a shiny aluminum tree.

They are more interested in what is modern and new.

Nothing seems to be working for Charlie Brown.

When he is at his lowest, he cries out:

Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus steps forward.

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

And he moves to the center of the stage and recites our text for today (in the King James Version).

I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. …

“…That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

While it might not be obvious, Linus is like the angel who appeared to the shepherds.

He is a herald.

A messenger.

Announcing the most profound good news.

God has come to all, even to the least of society.

Even to Charlie Brown.

God was here.

For all people.

Time to celebrate!

So, there we have it.

But there is something else about “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that really resonates with me.

Not only does it contain a scriptural description of Jesus birth (the one we read today), it also contains my second favorite carol.

It is our sermon text and hymn today.

Hark! The herald-angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

Hark! The herald-angels sing

“Glory to the new-born king”

Hear those words?

“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled”

Which kind of sounds like this, right?

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!

The Song of the Angels.

Words we hear in so many of our Christmas carols?

When you thought of your favorite carol, does it contain those words or at least the meaning of those words?

Everything from Handel’s “Messiah” to “The Christmas Song”.

Why did the angels sing this and why do we?

These words respond to the message of good news.

One angel announces:

‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

And then the “host” (literally and army of angels) breaks into song.

Praising God and singing.

Glory to God.

Peace on earth.

Why glory to God?

Because God is doing this great thing.

The Messiah is born.

God is with us.

Why peace on earth?

Like I described it last week.

We have God’s presence in the midst of our chaotic world.

But more than that, this event is going to reconcile God and humanity.

Eliminate the conflict.

Its like that family dinner where there is an argument.

Conflict!

No peace there!

But when the conflict is removed, the argument over, there is peace.

That is the peace the incarnation brings.

Peace between us and God.

A new way to live.

A life with a purpose.

The shepherds show us what that looks like.

Outcasts and unloved, they receive the good news and instead of grumbling about their status, they go a new way and obtain a purpose.

Go and see and tell.

Got to Bethlehem and you will find a baby.

Which baby?

That one!

The one in a manger.

That one!

The one wrapped in bands of cloth.

Go see that one!

That is the Messiah.

And so, the shepherds went.

They found the baby, took a peek, told everyone about the angelic message and visitation, and then went back to their flocks doing something they had never done before.

Glorifying and praising God.

Maybe the first Christmas carol.

Maybe they sang “Hark the Herald”.

Because they were now heralds with the message they received from the angels.

They gave it to Mary who gave it to Luke who gave it to us.

Good news of great joy for all the people.

To you was born that day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

This was a sign for you: a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger

As Linus said:

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Glory to God.

Peace on earth.

God is here.

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