Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hark The Herald Angels Say

Do you hear the angels sing? Nope, neither do I. You see, we think we know the story so well - Jesus is born in Bethlehem, then the heavenly choir of angels appear to the shepherds, do a praise party of singing, then the shepherds hurry off to see for themselves.

We sing about it in so many of our Christmas carols:
He spake: and straightway the celestial choir
In hymns of joy, unknown before, conpsire:
The praises of redeeming love they sang,
And heaven's whole orb with hallelujahs rang

("Christians, Awake, Salute the happy morn")

The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

("It came upon the midnight clear")

More familiar, perhaps:
Sing choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation

("O Come, all ye faithful")

And again:
Thus spake the seraph; and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels, praising God,who thus
Addressed their joyful song

("While shepherds watched their flocks by night")

And finally:
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King.

Full marks if you sang each of those as you were reading! But when we come to the Scriptures, and take care to read them, we find that the angels weren't singing. Ah, I hear you say, but they were praising God, so surely they must have been singing? Perhaps that's some wrong thinking on our part, that to praise God you must sing. But what does the Bible say?

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
(Luke 2:8-14)

Now I'm not suggesting that we scrap all these great carols. Christmas wouldn't be the same without some of them. But maybe we need to take more care to hear God's word, rather than thinking that we know all about it before we even sit down to read.

Here's one carol that gets it right:
The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep:

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

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