They didn’t really have a lot to say. A bit like a singing telegram: deliver the message then fade away, attention shifting to the birthday person. The lyrics focussed, expertly drafted by a superb celestial copy writer.
And the message? Just what the hearers needed at the time; no frills, no preaching, no long-winded exhortations—just the essentials:
Don’t worry! I’ve got great news that will make everyone happy. The Liberator is here, in this province, this town. This is who he’s with and here’s how you’ll recognize him. Praise be to God, and joy to the world.
Come to think of it, the angel messengers who appeared earlier to Mary and to Joseph didn’t hang around chatting, either. In this story, at least, it seems the role of angels is to appear, reassure the audience, give a message, and challenge them to action—and then leave, to let the hearer respond as they will.
What’s the angel message to you this day? Let your imagination take over for a moment; don’t be afraid, still your breathing, let the music swirl around you…
Whatever form your angels take—an understanding friend, moments of indescribable transcendence, the lyrics of a popular song, spirit of nature and wilderness, your subconscious breaking through the usual thought-chatter—let your angel speak.
What do you need to hear?
The message may be very personal: Don’t be afraid.
It could be for a general audience: Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
Maybe your angel message is: You’re not alone. Terrified as you are, there are other shepherds in the field with you.
If you’re the one who usually ministers to others: Even angels have company. Awe-inspiring as we may be, even surrounded by the radiance of God’s glory, there’s a host of us, keeping company, harmonising, sharing the mission.
If you’re not frightened, and angel messages are nothing new; if you’ve often perceived messages from outside yourself or from deep within, have you shared this gift with others? Do you hug the mystery away in your heart, and feel special? Perhaps in the coming year you could show those you care for your practice of stillness and meditation, so peace can infuse them—and you can delight in their angels, too.
Could the message be: Don’t focus on the smelly cattle shed, or the blood-stained hay: look up at the star?
“The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”
Perhaps the message is: Go on, do the thing you know is waiting, you’ll be glad you did.
When you come back—and, like the shepherds, you will come back to your field, to your every day, to the real world of stubborn sheep and thistly hillsides, foot rot and scabby mouth, a mother ewe rejecting one of her new-born twins, the green paddock of stumble-footed, bouncing week-old lambs, and angels and number eight wire and ozone depletion and weather forecasting—when you come back, it will be just as the angel said.
“All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”
Mary knows now that angels come in different guises, with a different message for each person and each occasion. With her baby in her arms and her husband by her side, with the barn full of visitors and the stock needing their manger back, the angels’ message to Mary today is quite different from the message all those months ago, to a frightened teenage girl in a terrifying predicament.
She knows now that things can change, that the glory, the radiance, the sense of wonder can stay with you, to keep in your heart and call on when you need it, whatever the future brings.
Do you hear angel voices?
It’s Christmas Eve/Day. The gaps between worlds are very thin today. We’ve come to a thin place, where angel voices might reach us more easily.
Close your eyes. Listen.
We sense the spaces between the molecules, the God-shaped gap in our rationalism, the secret and shared hopes: that this year, the perfect gift will be under the tree and dinner won’t be overcooked, that family fights will be trivial, laughter will drown out disharmony, and no-one cheats at Hobbit Monopoly or refuses to share their Paw Patrol toys or decapitates their sister’s Dora the Explorer.
These are relevant things. These are the stuff of our lives, the structure of our universe.
At Christmas, we suspend disbelief, we sing of angels and shepherds and signs and wonders and peace on earth, and for this special time, we let go of doubt and pessimism and division, and make space for wonder.
In this sacred space, we allow ourselves a vision of goodwill:
that good blokes will take the car keys off drunk mates,
that drivers won’t overtake on dangerous corners,
that the police and fire fighters and medical staff and undertakers might—just once—have a silent night, a new and glorious morn;
that women’s refuges, and men’s, might be empty, and food banks full.
That the hope that’s born in us today will grow and flourish in the year to come.
Can you think of a time when the angels didn’t sing? When their message didn’t get through? If you don’t hear your angel the first time, she’ll return with a vast host of others to grab your attention.
Perhaps you heard your angel long ago, but you’ve forgotten his song. Listen for familiar words to a different tune, or a change of tempo and different lyrics…
Maybe your angel’s saying, Get your fingers out of your ears. Don’t make us blast you with ear-splitting trumpets, don’t make us dance attendance ‘til you think you’re ready, don’t dismiss us as pseudo-mysticism, don’t try to balance us on a pin head or explain us away…
Or—You expected this, didn’t you? You know things are changing, something needs your attention. There’s a new life waiting, a miracle only you can make happen.
If you ignore her in the fields, this time she’ll ambush you in the street. If choral music doesn’t grab you, perhaps a reggae beat or neon sign or bumper sticker will bring good news. Even if you don’t believe in angels, listen to them sing!
Today, throughout the holiday season, and in the New Year, listen for the message from your angel: Hear my song. Let my strong wings enfold you.