The Song of the Angels
Angels in the spotlight. They are front and center in this time leading up to Christmas. This week our Gospel passage is about an angel appearing to a young Jewish girl in the Gospel of Luke. With exciting news. Last year in the Gospel of Matthew the angel appeared to Joseph the man who was betrothed to Mary. Maybe it wasn’t quite as exciting to Joseph as it was to Mary. But then again Mary seemed to need to ponder the news when she heard it, a bit skeptical at first. Funny thing about angels – the first words they offer when they appear is “Do not be afraid.”
Funny thing about angels, I used to be skeptical about them. Thought they were just part of an ancient, miraculous story, an opportunity for kids to dress up in filmy white and wear wings in Christmas pageants. Something for famous artists to paint from their imaginations. But not particularly relevant to life lived today.
For several years I used to present a four-part series on a Biblical theme in January each year at Rappahannock Westminster Canterbury. One year I was running out of ideas, but then came up with a spur of the moment list to offer the organizer. At the last minute I added “Angels” to the list. Skeptical about doing it because I considered myself something of a non-believer (of angels, that is). Guess what the group picked.
It ended up being a stunning series, not because of anything I brought to it, but because of everything the approximately 15 + participants contributed. They brought angel figurines, poems about angels, books, pictures. But mostly their own stories. Experiences they or friends or loved ones had. They shared and shared and shared. And somehow over the course of that month, angels became real. Kind of like how a child’s stuffed rabbit became real over the course of the story in The Velveteen Rabbit.
And I began piecing together stories I had heard during the years I have been a pastor, hearing others’ stories of the presence of comforting, light filled, radiant “presences” they may have called angels appearing at difficult times in their lives. It just kept adding up, the idea that there is something really real about angels.
And I remembered a stunning moment a few months after the September 11th attack on the twin towers in New York City when I stood at ground zero, then entered the chapel where weary firemen and rescue personnel had, during that fateful couple of days, token moments away from the rubble through which they were searching. In that same chapel I dropped to my knees at an altar rail and prayed – no words, just immense sadness,. and distress. And what arose in my in-sight was a spiraling vision of filmy vapor like forms rising from the smoke and rubble being lifted gently by descending streams of light. And a kind of beautiful sound, gentle, grace filled and a shaft of light around it all.
Going through old Christmas cards a few days ago, one caught my eye.. Silvery and sparkling on a deep night blue background it offered inside a poem called “The Blessings of the 12 Angels.” About the gifts the wise men brought to Christ two thousand years ago. But that twelve angels brought gifts too. “They brought the gifts of hope and joy, wonder, praise, and peace, benevolence and comfort, which when shared tend to increase. Perseverance, strength, and grace, and faith born from above, all carried safe on angel’s wings, wrapped in eternal love.” The final words offered “The blessings of the twelve Angels serve as reminders that the most precious gifts of Christmas are not those held in the hand but treasured in the heart.”
Howard Thurman wrote about the singing of angels in his book The Inward Journey. “There must be always remaining in every person’s life some place for the singing of angels. . . . Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”
How incredibly relevant for life right here, right now. Don’t we desperately need such light filled radiant presences to come to us, like they did to shepherds in the Bethlehem hills two thousand years ago, singing and saying, “Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing you good news.” Yes!
May we be still, hear the singing of the angels, lay down our fears, find the exquisite gift of love and light waiting to fill us with hope and joy then spread the news.