December 24, 2014
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Some people hear this exalted text in the tones of Handel. I can’t but help always hear it in the humble voice of Linus.
It actually takes Handel and Linus to get Christmas; angels and shepherds.
Imagine the contrast. A rag tag band of Bedouin shepherds working the night shift on the outskirts of the little town of Bethlehem. . . . . and the sudden appearance of something like thousands of angelic beings surrounding them with a spectacular blinding radiance. How could it be any more contrasting?
I’ve had an insight since yesterday or at least one of my long held assumptions about the Christmas story has been challenged. I’ve always imagined all these angels hovering overhead in the sky above the shepherds. Go back and read it again. The text doesn’t say they hovered overhead in the sky. It says the angels appeared to the Shepherds. In every other case in Scripture when an angel appears to someone the angel is standing before the person, not hovering above in the sky.
So what, you may ask. O.K., first, we need a proper picture in our mind of an angelic being. Somewhere along the way artists began depicting angels as precious little chubby babies with wings (and in the recesses my mind, I think they are holding candy canes). For starters, that’s not cute. It’s creepy. Come on– fat naked babies with feathered wings hovering around in the sky? Creepy. Who thought of that?
About the closest present day image I can conjure up that gets anywhere close to what biblical angels are like is Thor on steroids when he was already on steroids. Seriously, angelic beings are fierce, powerful, towering, terrifying creatures. We get our first glimpse in Genesis when Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden of Eden.
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. 3:14.
And do you remember that time in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus, about to be arrested, told his disciples to put away their swords, saying,
“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (At last count, twelve legions came to about 72,000. just saying)
To face an angelic being would certainly mean fearing for one’s life. Now, picture in your mind tens of thousands of these celestial creatures, brighter than the sun, completely surrounding these humble shepherds, not flying overhead, but standing on the ground. (Can you say, “Holy Heavenly Host, Batman!) Somewhere along the way I also got the sense these angels sounded something like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing. Again, the text says nothing about singing. It says they were praising God and saying. Did I mention that I’ve always heard them singing in English to the tune of Handel’s Messiah?
I think we have it all wrong. In all our artistic, philharmonic efforts, we have domesticated these beings down to the size of our chancels and concert halls. And I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where angelic beings are actually singing. It does reference them in John’s vision as “crying out” in a “loud voice.” When the text says they were praising God, it means they were crying out with loud voices things like,
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen! (Rev. 7)
And things like,
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4)
And all of this is being shouted in an unrecorded non-human language. They speak in the “tongues of angels.” Obviously the Holy Spirit interpreted it to Luke, but it wasn’t in nice Elizabethan English. And obviously the Holy Spirit gifted one or more of those shepherds with an interpretation of the language, but these are small things for God. The big thing is the colliding realities of Heaven and Earth breaking in on that field outside Bethlehem announcing the singular most astonishing thing that has ever or will ever happen in the history of history and eternity: God becoming human flesh– with us– Emmanuel.
Now what if we plugged all of this imagery of an earth shaking encounter with tens of thousands of fierce otherworldly angelic creatures into our mind as we sang, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . . . ?”
I think you are getting my point. That fat little naked baby with wings perched on top of your Christmas tree– not Christmas.
What if in our Christmas Eve services we created a five minute spot in the order of worship, maybe while we were holding our lit candles in the air and just before we sang Joy to the World. As those candles hoisted above us we would enter into a human reenactment of the Heavenly host on that first Christmas. Everyone, men, women and children would be charged to shout at the top of our lungs, at levels of deafening decibels, DECLARING over and over and over again the following words,
“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND PEACE ON EARTH!”
That would actually look a lot like Christmas.
At least we would be getting closer. ;0)
PEOPLE GET READY! JESUS IS COMING.
J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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