“Suddenly, a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, ‘Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors.’” (Luke 2:13-14, The Common English Bible)
Song is one of the things I like best about this time of year. I like Handel’s Alleluia Chorus and I like Jingle Bells. I like Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming and I like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. And while Luke does not actually say that the angels sang at Jesus’ birth, it’s hard for me to imagine them praising God without singing with gusto and without playing their harps. Many of the songs we sing for Christmas try to capture the songs of the angels, and while I am certain we don’t do justice to the angels’ songs, I am really glad that we make the attempt.
One of my favorite carols is It Came upon the Midnight Clear. It was written by Edmund Sears in 1849, with an emphasis on the social implications of the Gospel. It was a time when Christians were rdwrestling with major social shifts, especially with regard to slavery and poverty. The 3reflects this beautifully:
And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow, Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!
This stanza brings to mind Mamie, the mother-in-law of my father’s sister. Mamie suffered from emphysema and moved from chair to chair with great difficulty, and wheezed painfully for several minutes after sitting. She also had painful swelling in her legs and feet, the result of a week heart. Eventually, she was tethered to an oxygen tank. Her life was hard and she suffered a lot. But she was always welcome in the home of my grandparents, her in-laws, and she almost always showed up. She would sit in the chair at Christmas and watch all of the children open their presents and a look of peace and joy would come over her face. Whatever weariness she felt dissipated at the songs of her angels (us kids) “singing.” I like to think that, without knowing it, we kids gave her an incredible gift simply by being in the same room with her on Christmas.
Christmas should never crowd out our awareness of those for whom life is hard. We should remember that some families cannot even be in the same room on Christmas, or have a meal, or sleep in beds. But neither should we stop singing so that we can wring our hands or moan and groan about how bad things are. Someone has to sing! Someone has to infuse the air with praise and infect the dreariness of life with joy! Our praise and our ridiculous songs are the conduit for the glad and golden hours that someone desperately needs in their life!
One of the best Christmas programs I ever attended (and I’ve been to a lot) was one that was given at a grade school in a little town in Nebraska. One song was The Twelve Days of Christmas, with different kids singing the different “days” of the song. When they got to day three, a kid relatively new to the community bashfully sang his part. His family had evidently come from parts south, because his “three French hens” became “thray Franch hans” which in that community sounded for all the world like “three ranch hands.” People laughed…a lot. But instead of being embarrassed, the kid loved it. He had made people laugh! So with each passing day of the song, he sang louder…and people laughed harder. By the time the song was over, people were rolling in the aisles.
I don’t know who in that auditorium might have been carrying a crushing load, but I’ll wager they forgot about it during that song. And who’s to say whether the angels had a hand in what happened that night? If the promise of glad and golden hours is to be kept, what other ways might the angels use to bring them to us? I hope you will rest beside the weary road this month…and hear the angels sing. Amen!