Song of the Angels

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

While few of us would dare open our Christmas presents early, there is one Christmas gift that we all enjoy well before December 25.

In fact, we can’t help enjoying it. Even people who decline to celebrate the Christmas holiday willingly accept this blessing of the season.

The gift is music. From “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to “Feliz Navidad”, the music of this holiday is everywhere. Bing Crosby, Placido Domingo, Mariah Carey: every singer seems to offer a Christmas song.

It’s interesting, too, that merchants who wouldn’t dare to display a manger scene happily broadcast religious carols like “Silent Night” throughout their stores.

I suspect that these broadcasts are permitted because of the sheer attractiveness of Christmas music. It’s irresistible.

Even the heart of a Scrooge can be moved by Handel’s Messiah.

Even the most tone-deaf curmudgeon feels the temptation to sing along with “Joy to the World”.

This isn’t true of any other religious music. You don’t hear Easter hymns in the background while you’re riding in an elevator. No, there is a special relationship between music and Christmas.

And I wonder if this connection isn’t bound up with the theology of Christmas?

I wonder if the power of this season’s music emerges from the philosophy behind the holiday – from the foundation of faith that inspired people to sing about the birth of Christ ever since that night, long ago, when the shepherds were watching their flocks, and they heard a multitude of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth”.

This is the connection: Christmas celebrates Incarnation – the “making flesh”, the appearance of the divine in human form.

Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, other forms of Incarnation also appear in our material world.

One of those incarnations of the Spirit is music. While music is by nature invisible, it can only exist in a physical world; musical notes are perceived by means of vibrations of the air.

Yet at the same time, music seems to come to us from another realm altogether. The breathtaking compositions by Mozart when he was a teenager seem to have been sent him from the stars.

Yet these heavenly sounds reach us because sound waves are created in air by fragile human vocal chords and delicate musical instruments.

The gift of music is a perfect example then of the divine made flesh.

And we learn something else about Incarnation from music: we learn about the infinite possibilities of incarnate spirit.

Turn on the FM radio – any music station you want – and right away, you’ll recognize the type of music being played. Rap, rock-and-roll, classical, Latin, country-and-western – the kind of music you hear on that station is instantly recognizable.

And yet, within each genre the pieces are remarkably different. If you’re a fan of a particular kind of music, you can easily distinguish one artist from another.

And you don’t have to worry about the possibilities being exhausted! New songs will always be written. If you tune in your favorite station one day, and you hear a piece you’ve never heard before, that novelty doesn’t amaze you in the least! The near-infinite range of possible notes and possible instruments and possible voices means that we can always hear something new.

The author of Psalm 96 saw this truth in a religious way. The author wrote, “Sing to the Lord a new song…”

A new song. The Messiah brings a new song of life – a new ethics of peace on earth, of loving your neighbor and showing good will to the stranger in need.

The song of the angels, therefore, wasn’t just a proclamation of who Jesus was – the Messiah; the song foreshadowed what could be done in the Messiah’s name. Incarnation brings new possibilities to our lives here and now, in the flesh. And don’t we often need those new chances? Don’t we need to hear this divine song during those troubling times in our lives when “incarnation” is a struggle? – when we labor under “the burdens of the flesh”. Physical problems prevent older people from enjoying activities they once did and people of any age can feel dragged down by demands that our bodies make – demands that seem never to be satisfied. We’re all limited by the physical reality – by the capacities of the bodies we’re born with.

Yet even when we’re weighed down by our embodiment, the Spirit of the Messiah can lead us to something better.

Given only a finite amount of energy, I’m forced to decide what’s most important to me. Faced with an uncertain amount of time, I see the wisdom of looking for the greatest joy in each moment of my life.

Once again, music reminds us of this spiritual truth. Music points us to the deeper things in life.

Like a warm bath soothes tired muscles, so music bathes the soul in wondrous sounds, comforting and healing the hard knocks of life in the flesh.

So in this Christmas season, as we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, as we ponder the ancient message of peace and of freedom, let us give thanks in our deepest selves for this gift. Let us give thanks for the liberating song of the angels, incarnate in our lives.

“Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing all ye citizens of heav’n above: Glory to God in the highest, O come, let us adore him … Christ the Lord.”

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due al might, majesty, power, dominion and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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