Stores, offices, and all kinds of places are filled with the sound of familiar and heartening Christmas carols. Some local radio stations are all Christmas music all the time with classic and modern renditions of the secular and religious carols and songs – sometimes recorded by singing chipmunks. It becomes part of the ambiance of our Advent season; part of what readies us for the celebration of Christmas.
This week – as Christmas Eve arrives Tuesday evening – we will regale in a whole host of carols. We will sing that evening, Christmas Day, and we will keep singing them until the end of the Christmas season. One of the Liturgical Seasons is “Christmas” which includes not only Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, but also the Feast of the Holy Family, Mary the Mother of God, Epiphany, and finally the Baptism of the Lord (Sunday, Jan. 12), which concludes the season. But of course, our hearts and memory mostly associate the carols with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
During the Masses of Christmas, we will again hear the Gospels announce the Good News that to us is born a Savior – and the heralding angels will sing. There is a blogging Monsignor who asserts that the angels don’t sing – perhaps can’t sing. He cites Luke 2:8-14, which is the whole shepherds-in-fields proclamation – “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’” (vv. 8-12) True it doesn’t say “sing” – but then it is just one angel. What about when the whole chorus of angels show up? “And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (vv. 13-14) On a Scriptural basis our blogging Monsignor is on pretty solid ground. There is no place in Scripture where “angels” “sing.” The “say”, “announce”, “proclaim” and such things. At one level I want to be true to God’s Word and not simply reinterpret it because I don’t want to change the carol’s words to “Hark the Herald Angels Announce.”
Then there is the part of me that, never having met this blogging Monsignor, wants to simply label him “curmudgeon,” assign him to the list of “party poopers” and keep those angels singing. After all, why wouldn’t they sing? There is a very strong connection in the Psalms between singing and giving praise to God. But to whom do the Herald Angels sing? Perhaps the chorus was sung to the King of Kings, a welcome to the world: “Glory to the newborn King!” A scene that will be echoed years later as the crowds of people welcome Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!”
After all, this is an amazing scene in which God the Father is praised for sending a Son and then proclaiming peace to us, who so badly need a savior. A child of our time once offered that the whole thing was an angelic shout of joy because now their work as guardian angels would be easier because Jesus would keep everyone safe and peaceful. And I think she is on to something with that insight.
I can imagine the guardian angels having toiled all those eons and in every epoch of human history, seeing that, try as they might, the gap between God and people was growing wider, perhaps they were growing “weary” in an angelic way. But now, with the Son of God taking on our human nature, being like us in all things but sin, there are finally the conditions for the possibility of salvation. The angels just need to guard what has been assured in Christ for those who believe. And so maybe the angels sing because Jesus will now do the “heaving lifting.” Why would the angels sing? To invite us to join their chorus: “Joyful, all ye nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies. With angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Maybe they just want us to sing.
While there is no place in Sacred Scripture that angels are definitely singing, there are lots of places where people are singing. Maybe, just maybe angels don’t/can’t sing. Maybe song is reserved for people. This moment spoken of throughout history by the prophets who pointed to this day when the Good News would be announced, sent from heaven: “It was revealed to [prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you with regard to the things that have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you (through) the holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels longed to look.” (1 Peter 1:12). Maybe only the redeemed can sing salvation’s sweet song. Perhaps only the saved can sing about amazing grace. These things go beyond an angel’s experience.
Perhaps they don’t sing, but we sure should. This Christmas season, remember to raise your voice in joyous song, praising God in full-throated song for the sweetness of Salvation has been born to us. Christ is indeed born in Bethlehem.