(from several years ago)
Is it not astounding that no matter how well we know the Christmas story, no matter how often we hear it, it still is as powerful and moving as when we first learned it as little children? I have heard this story preached on from the perspective of the shepherds, sitting out with their flocks on the hills of Bethlehem. I have heard it preached from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin who listened in astonishment as these rough strangers from the hills broke into the silence of the stable and knelt to adore her child. But it was not until I was at seminary that I heard the story from the perspective not of earth, but of heaven. The story about what it meant to God the Father and the holy angels who sang out that night. And the story wasn’t in a sermon, but in a poem. I’d like to share it with you. God the Father is speaking to the angels of heaven, giving them last minute instructions before they soar off to Bethlehem. Listen:
Before the marvel of this night
Adoring fold your wings and bow,
Then tear the sky apart with light
And with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace
That fear and death and sorrow cease.
Sing peace! Sing peace! Sing gift of peace!
Awake the sleeping world with song.
This is the day the Lord has made.
Assemble here, celestial throng,
In royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss,
A teasing taste of what they miss.
Sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss.
The love that we have always known
Our constant joy and endless light
Now to the loveless world be shown,
Now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love
That rules our universe above.
Sing love! Sing love! Sing God is love!
Sing love! Sing God is love!
Isn’t that awesome? Before the marvel of this night, adoring fold your wings and bow. The marvel of this night: the Holy God, the Mighty God, the Immortal God, had become man, born of a Virgin in humility. Before their very eyes the angels saw the Creator who had made himself a creature. They knew, always knew, that He was love, but now they get a glimpse of how measureless beyond all measuring is the love he bears for the children of Adam and Eve, his love for you and for me.
Did they know the full story - those angels of Bethlehem? They sang of a Savior. Did they know HOW he would save? Did they see already the shadow of nailprints in his tiny infant hands? For the marvel of this night is not only that God has crossed the impossible distance between Creator and creation. The full marvel of this night is that the Word was made flesh so that He might bear our sins in His own body and die with them. So that He, the sinless One might be full of our sin and so destroy our death. So that He, the Immortal One who cannot die, might by taking our flesh die in our place.
Marvel indeed, before which nothing is appropriate but adoration. “Venite Adoremus!” Oh, come, let us adore Him. It is the call of the angels, each to each on this holy night. “Oh come! Let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” For tonight He is given to the world to be its Savior, bearing the gift of peace.
Peace? I know that it hardly seems to us as though his coming brought peace. Twenty centuries of creulty and bloodshed and mean-spiritedness seem to belie the angel’s words. Was it just a hope? Were they wrong?
No! For though they proclaim peace on earth, it was no earthly peace they proclaimed. These messengers of light proclaim the peace of heaven as it captures the hearts of men on earth. Peace. Peace between God and man. Peace, not the absense of war and strife, but the joy of living together with God in harmony. Peace that comes through the Child, who is named Prince of Peace. The angels, looking down from the heights see this. The Child will be the one through whom the creation would be reconciled to God. The Child will be the One through whom a warring, divided, hate-filled people will become one, filled with the light of love. It wasn’t a pipe-dream. The angels do not lie. They proclaim the birth of Christ and the gift of peace.
And God commands them “Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss, a teasing taste of whay they miss. Sing bliss! Sing bliss! Sing endless bliss!” The Child has come not quench the joy of life. That is the impression that people often receive. They think that our holy faith is just full of unpleasant “dos” and even more filled with “don’ts.” Oh, how little we understand this night if that is what we think. The Child was born and the angels sang and the bliss, the endless joy of heaven, was tasted upon earth. A teasing taste of what we miss. What the angels offered the shepherds that night, and through the shepherds, offer you and me, is joy. There is no joy on earth that can compare with knowing that this Child was born for you, to take away your sin, to destroy your death. There is no joy on earth that can rival the joy to be found when your heart is the manger for the Christ Child and he is welcomed in. When you come forward to receive Him in the body that the Virgin bore, in the blood that he poured out for you, what you are entering into is the joy of the angels: fellowship with God in Christ. No wonder the angel said to the shepherds: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will be to all people.” Jesus is that Great Joy!
“Into one song,” says the Father, “compress the love that rules our universe above. Sing love! Sing love! Sing God is love! Sing love! Sing, God is love!” The love that is God - this is what fills the angels hearts to overflowing so that their song rings out over the earth, and it echoes still. May it echo in your heart forever. Amen.