Sunday, December 19
“Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plaines…” Sweetly singing??? It’s beautiful Christmas poetry but it wasn’t sweet singing that struck terror in the shepherds.
Because we have been well trained in an intellectual understanding of our Christian faith, it’s easy to look at passages like this as study texts for the existence of angels, for delving into the details of the angel’s message, for proof of the validity of Old Testament prophecies. And no one likes such study more than I.
But in all our sound analyses we miss what I’ll call the heavenly vision. Close your eyes and see the angel (Gabriel again?) surrounded by, and even embodying, the blinding glory of God. See the night once inky black, now electrified by holy light. Block all other sound from your ears and hear the angel echo what was first heard by the One who thundered, LET THERE BE LIGHT! The true light has finally come. The shepherds–just like Zechariah, Mary and Joseph–are stopped in their tracks before they hear Do not be afraid.
A Swedish minister who wrote the original lyrics to “How Great Thou Art” was caught in a midday thunderstorm with flashing violence, followed by brilliant sun, and then the sweet songs of birds in nearby trees. The experience prompted him to “fall to his knees in humble adoration of his mighty God.”
Too seldom are we struck by “God’s power throughout the universe displayed.” Sometimes we feel his presence when we walk through the “woods and forest glades,” but that night in the Bethlehem fields, the shepherds were thrown to their knees by the brilliance of God’s power, Oh, for the occasional–and even fearful–glimpse of the glory of God as we sing, “How great Thou art!” It’s not a song now–nor was the angels’ chorus then–to be sung without joyful sky-shattering praise.