A meditation for Christmas Eve December 24, 2008
On a long ago December night, in a church much like this one, I stood in a line of angels, singing. The church was dark, and a spotlight shone on us, and after the song ended, we stayed in our places, part of a larger tableau.
It was lovely, the church strewn with hay, the younger children singing from the balcony, the big boys dressed in bathrobes to play the shepherds, a soft-spoken girl and the best-looking boy filling the parts of Mary and Joseph.
It was lovely until the room began to spin, terrifyingly.
And while I know it was the heat from the spotlight and the need for a drink of water and the excitement of the evening, I wonder if we wouldn’t all feel a bit that way in the presence of the holy, and especially in the presence of angels.
A few years ago on Christmas Eve I tuned the radio to a live broadcast from the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England—their festival of Lessons and Carols. After the sixth lesson, the great Choir sang a newly commissioned anthem. It was one of those modern pieces of music that I don’t like much: the music was dissonant and loud and overwhelming. Worse, it was unfamiliar. Just as I was wondering why Christmas would inspire such sounds, I remembered the shepherds, confronted with something loud and shocking and so completely unfamiliar they didn’t know what to think. But they did know how to feel. They felt anxious and confused, even terrified. Fear not, said the angel, but I can’t imagine he reassured the shepherds. No Hallmark cherubs, the angels of the Bible were God’s superheroes, creatures of awesome power and beauty! And around them shone the Glory of the Lord, a glory so grand, so bright, so wonder-filled we can hardly imagine it.
And those terrifying, awe-inspiring angels sing and speak in imperatives. They don’t ask; they tell.
Earlier we sang “O Come All Ye Faithful.” At that same faraway, long ago church of my childhood, I learned to sing the words in Latin, and I know their meaning is far from stately and processional.
O hie, ye believers! raise the song of triumph!
O speed ye, O speed ye! to Bethlehem hie!
Hie ye! And Speed Ye! Not process ye, but hurry and get there! That was the message the awe-inspiring angels brought to the shepherds.
Think of a time when you were afraid, desperately so. You were faced with the incomprehensible, the devastating. Were you paralyzed? Did you run away, find escape wherever you could? The shepherds ran that night, but not away. They ran toward the little town, to meet the amazing truth: to meet God in his mother’s arms. In our uncertainty about our world and our own lives, God’s messengers urge us to hurry and meet Jesus.
There are angels singing whenever, against the odds, we respond to darkness with light, to terror with love, to anger with peace. There are angels singing whenever, despite the temptation to do almost anything else, we reach out in love toward God.
And that’s what Christmas is about, hurrying not to the shopping or the parties, but hie-ing ourselves to the manger, where we stop and watch in awe. Every Christmas we stop to remember that God showed us love in the person of Jesus. We picture the angels and we sing “Gloria” and we live it again, the story of a baby, helpless and vulnerable, just as we are, a baby who became a man unafraid to walk toward trouble, out of love for us.
Stop a moment and feel it…but I warn you, the room may spin if you do, just a little.
Here are angels singing. Amen.