If you want to be technical, nowhere in the Bible does it literally say the angels sang. Some translations say they sang, but the words for singing in those cases are best just as the NIV has it: v. 13: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying…” (Lk. 2:13). The reason I am confident the angels sang is for a simple reason: I cannot imagine anything else.
The angels sing. This past week I cannot remember who expressed the idea that the angels appeared to the shepherds, because the shepherds were most in touch with nature, the shepherds could most fully comprehend the message. What the angels sing to the shepherds is the birth announcement of Jesus Christ. Today we have text messaging…
Looking at the scripture, especially 13-15, there is a three note song of instructive thoughts, transformational emotions, and prophetical insight.
Three notes of Instructive thoughts: The angel first appeared to the shepherds to proclaim the good news of the birth of the Savior (2:8-12). The song of the heavenly choir enlarges the significance of the most amazing news. The presence of the angels alone underscores the momentous event. Ever see a limousine drive by and wonder what is going on? The angels are God’s messengers, proclaiming his good news in words that can be understood, to make plain the eternal significance of the birth of Christ. When the angels sing, there are three notes in v. 14, of the great significance of salvation:
1. The first note: This salvation gives glory to God. “Glory to God in the highest.” And is not that the greatest of all human purposes, to give glory to the Lord most high? We are not called to live for ourselves, but for him who created us. And the angels, God’s messengers, at the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, remind us to give glory to God most high.
"Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your downward flight to earth,
Ye who sing creation's story,
Now proclaim Messiah's birth;
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King."
And why is this invitation to glorify God the first words of the angel? Glorifying the Lord is the beginning of order and truth. I recently heard from a person who talked about the minor problems he was having in his life, and maybe, he mused, he should get to church more often so his luck would change! That is to glorify God second, as a benefit to ourselves. We are to glorify the Lord, put him first, for no other reason than it is right and proper. If there were only one instruction in the Bible, this would be it. Everything else flows from glorifying the Lord. But there is more…
2. This second note from the music of the angels: This salvation gives peace to mankind, “and on earth, peace to men.” This is God’s purpose. The music of the newborn baby is a message of peace. In the middle of war, a baby is born. Our world is not so different from any point in history. Jesus was born at a time of war, the Romans with aspirations to conquer the world, the revolt of the Jews, the slaughter of the innocence. For us, we have an unsettled feeling whenever Iraq and Afghanistan are mentioned. Is there anyamong us who do not pray daily for enlisted men and women that we know personally? “and on earth, peace to men.”
I like the way Charles Spurgeon describes what happened on that first Christmas day: “Wars had raged from the ends of the world; men had slaughtered one another, heaps on heaps. There had been wars within as well as wars without. Conscience had fought with man; Satan had tormented man with thoughts of sin. There had been no peace on earth since Adam fell. But, now, when the newborn King made his appearance, the swaddling band with which he was wrapped up was the white flag of peace. That manger was the place where the treaty was signed, whereby warfare should be stopped between man's conscience and himself, man's conscience and his God.”
Tell me a greater need for humankind than the promise of peace. The words were sung by the heavenly choir, the promise of peace, words of salve for a wounded world.
3. The third note of the song sung by the angels: This salvation is a token of God’s good-will to the human race, “on whom his favor rests.” Not long ago, I received a note from a friend that was sharing his plans. I would not have advised this person take this particular course of action, but he made up his mind and was going to proceed. He wanted approval. I e-mailed back, not being able to bless that particular decision but not wanting to completely discourage him. I said, “you know, I only want the best for you.” The song of the angels, God’s messengers, as if it is the words of God himself, “on whom his favor rests” i.e. “I only want the best for you.” The message was sung: the newborn baby Jesus is a gift of God only wanting the best for his people… “on whom his favor rests.”
The song of the angels transforms the emotions of the shepherds. This song stirs your heart to wonder and amazement, joy and pleasure. Perhaps there is no greater transformative range of emotions in such a few verses as we find in the passage of scripture. The emotions go from everyday life, to fear, to wonder, to amazement, to intrigue. There is a stirring of the imagination. As the angels sing to the shepherds, there is a stirring of the emotions that something momentous has taken place. The shepherds find complete satisfaction. And birthed out of the satisfaction is the emotion of confidence (Luke 2:15). That’s confidence. The shepherds knew.
The world does not want you to have confidence. The world does not mind that you believe the Christ story as long as you leave wiggle room so that you don’t call anyone else wrong. In our pluralistic world in which the politically correct thing is to accept everyone and every belief, we are not supposed to have confidence. We are not supposed to make absolutes. Yet the shepherds hear the proclamation of the heavenly choir, and they gain a great confidence: let us go to Bethlehem and see. The shepherds have pure confidence that the message of God is right and good.
The song of the angels is proclaimed with a shout: Glory to God in the highest. The angels not only proclaim the truth of the significance of the birth of Christ, but the angels seek to transform our hearts and emotions, a movement from fear and doubt bursting forth to joy and confidence. That’s the power of music, the power of God through the music of his angels.
The Music of the angels is Prophetic insight.
The angels sing of that which does not appear to be true at this moment. I look around the world and there is hurting. God is not glorified, God is rejected. We live in a world which has an assault on Christian values. Yet the words of the song are sung as if the future is a present reality: on earth peace to men. In our dark moments we see anything but peace. We see death, we see hurting. Yesterday I went find Sally in Fred Meyers, and a woman came rushing up behind another woman and spoke rather harshly, “I want to tell you how rude you were…” For a moment I had visions of a fist fight. There is an incredible amount of tension in this world.
The shepherds do not seem to notice the tension. The song of the angels gives the shepherds confidence to bring the future into the present. Through the music of the angels, we learn to live as prophetic people, the future glory of God invading the present, that is the wonder of Christmas. Christmas is magic not because of Santa, not because of a perfect gift, but rather the promise of a future glory of God to reign on earth, to bring all people to himself. The magic of Christmas is not magic at all, it’s a promise that just as Christ came once upon the earth, he is coming again. Let’s give that a name: let’s call the coming again the Advent of Christ. We are truly to learn to live as ADVENT Christians/prophetic Christians, ie. We know the end of the story, we know the Lord will come again, the angels sang of a future reality as if it is the present and by living the future in the present, it is transformative, it is life, it is joy, it is amazement. A few days ago I met a son and mother living in their van. On the surface it looked as if everything was wrong, but these good folks had optimism; they could see better days. I asked about the small dog travelling with them, and the dogs name is cat.
“Advent” means the coming, or a new beginning, to live as “Advent” Christians is to live with joy in the present, regardless of the present, because we know the end of the story. We know that God is to be glorified above all else, we know that God wants humankind to have peace, we know that the Lord wants the best for his people. So let’s live prophetically, live as people who understand the Advent” of Christ of the glory of God.
The songs of the angels fills the shepherds with a new perspective: Keep Christmas like the shepherds. Forget the tradition of the new year’s resolutions. Make Christian resolutions because of what Christ has done for you. Ask the Lord to help you. Give your life to the Lord. The shepherds have a wonderful response: “let’s go…and see…”
To hear the Christmas story sung by the angels is to respond with the spirit of adventure that invaded the shepherds. God is to be glorified above all else, yet he brings peace, wanting the best for you. Our minds and hearts/emotions are transformed into satisfaction and confidence. May we live as prophetic people, people who know the end of the story, that the Lord Jesus Christ is victorious.