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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008-11-23 Lk 02 14 "The Angels' Song"

2008-11-23 Lk 02 14 "The Angels' Song"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

We've been talking about stewardship through the songs of the Bible over these past weeks. First Hannah's Song, then Mary's Song, then Zechariah's Song. Today, we read the Angels' Song. It goes like this: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" (Or, as many of us learned it, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." I like the King James Version better. That's the way Linus read it.)

But wait! It's not even Thanksgiving and we're reading Christmas passages. Now, please don't think the church is getting to be like the stores. We're not going to start putting out Christmas decorations the day after Halloween or anything. Poor stores, poor economy. They're doing everything they can to get people out stimulating the economy. 'Tis better to buy than to receive. But that's not what we're about. We're not reading the Angels' Song in the context of Christmas Season; we're reading it in the context of Stewardship Season. At Christmas Season, we celebrate what the angels sang. In Stewardship Season, the emphasis goes to what the shepherds did after the song.

The shepherds' response comes in the two verses after the song: 2:15-16 - When the angels had
left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let
us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which
the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary
and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. And then add verse 17: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child.

What do you do when the angels have left and gone back up into heaven? How do you work with the silence of the angels? Here's the thing: at Christmas, God brings good news of glory in the highest and peace and goodwill toward all. But the rest of the year, what do we do with that song? How do we keep it alive in our heads when there's so much the opposite of peace and goodwill going on in the world? That's the Stewardship Question. What do we do in the absence of angels?


I'd like to launch a preemptive first strike against the post-Christmas let-down. You know the "Post-Christmas Let-down." It starts Christmas afternoon. It's about 4PM, and the kids are already stealthily eying the bottom of the tree, just in case - just in case - one more present might have been missed. Just in case, sometime around lunch, Santa made a U-turn and brought them the cell phone they really wanted. Or -- the day toward the end of the week when you start putting the decorations back in the storage boxes. (End of the week... maybe it's that day in March, for you.) The lights come down, the snow globes go back to their containers, the Elf on the Shelf becomes the Elf in Trapped in Bubble Wrap. All creation heaves a sigh of relieved melancholy. We made it. Another Christmas down. Dasher and Dancer and even the Baby Jesus in the nativity go back to their attic stable. Until next year. Goodbye, Christmas. Hello, real world.

Eww, Reverend Gloomy Gus. But you know the feeling, don't you? That post-Christmas pensive that sits in the bottom of your stomach, that makes you say, "Wow, was it only a week ago that we were ringing bells and clinking glasses of good cheer?" I want to launch a preemptive first strike against just that. Why? Because if you're prone to feeling this way, you're an angel. You come out for Christmas, and then you go back to heaven for the rest of the year. Isn't that what the angels did? They came out and sang a song - one measley verse - shortest song of all the ones we've read - and then *poof* back to the cloud. We get that feeling of post-Christmas melancholy because we want to be angels - but we're not. We're not angels. Not yet. So don't try to be an angel; be a shepherd. We're shepherds in this life, not angels. The angels make the announcement of Christmas and then vanish. But it's the shepherds who hear, and then go. That's their job: The shepherds go. They go to see the Baby Jesus. The see him, and Mary and Joseph. And then they go again. They go tell the world what they've seen. Does the Bible ever say they stop? No. Don't try to be an angel; the angel choir's job is finished as soon as the song is over. Be a shepherd. The shepherds' job starts on Christmas and when does it end? Never. The shepherds are like the Energizer Bunny; they keep going, and going, and going. That's their job, and it never ends. At least it doesn't end in this life. It ends when they qualify for the angel choir, and that's a long time from now.

So, plan ahead, not for Christmas, because that'll take care of itself. Plan ahead to beat the after-Christmas blues by setting your mind not on being an angel, but on being a shepherd. Hear the songs. See the Baby Jesus. Praise him at his cradle. And then go. And keep going, and going, and going. Go tell the world. Be an angel at Christmas if you want to. If you're a kid, be an angel before Christmas. But after Christmas, leave the angels behind. Be a shepherd.


People who want to tell the world about Jesus a lot of times get a bad reputation. It's because their actions don't match up with their words. They talk a good Jesus game, but then it turns out they're seriously less than angels. That's a shame. It's awful when a few bad apples make everyone think twice about saying the good news. So we figure instead of talking too much about Jesus, we'll show people through our actions. Our song goes, "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love." And that's great. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. (OK, not all my song allusions come from The Summer of Love. I like Coldplay, too.) The world needs more loving people. But what would have happened if the shepherds had said, "We want people to know about the birth of the Baby Jesus, but we don't want to be pushy about it. It turns people off when you're pushy about religion. Maybe could send a chain email to everyone in our address book. Something like, Jesus is born... pass this on to five friends or your computer will crash at midnight." And thank goodness the shepherds weren't Presbyterians. They would have heard the angel choir sing its anthem and said, "My goodness. That was enjoyable. I'm clapping in my heart."

The shepherds heard the song of the angels and got busy. They got up out of their pews and went to see for themselves. And then they spread the good news. One day they were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night and the next morning -- they were evangelists. Last night - shepherds; today - missionaries. The shepherds were transformed into stewards. Overnight the presence of Jesus turned them into stewards who instead of tending flocks, went out and found them.


"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

OK, there it is, folks. The angels' song. I won't sing it. It might send you running for the doors, but not in a good way. It's a very short song. So what that tells me is that you don't have to memorize the Bible to be a good shepherd, or be a good steward. You don't have to be an expert in Christianity to be an evangelist. It's relatively unskilled labor. What the brevity of the angel's song also tells me is that just a little is enough. Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. We don't need any mountains moved. We just need a world where peace and goodwill are heard and shared and spread through all the land. God gave you hands and feet, and also a mouth to do that with.

And one more thing about the angels' song and how it got delivered. You know, if you're in the business of spreading the news that the Messiah, the son of God is born, who's resume are you going to look more closely at? A heavenly host of operatic angels? Or a flock of uneducated shepherds? Hmm.  You know, even back then, God could have probably circled the world with angels. God could have taken all the guesswork out of the announcement. What would you respond better to? "Bernie, there's a shepherd at the door who says he's seen Jesus. Should I let him in?" Or, "Come quick! There are angels descending on clouds all around"? All of this tells me that for whatever reason angels don't do so well in earth's atmosphere. Or maybe the earth just can't handle that much heaven. For whatever reason, you don't get that many angels and they don't stick around nearly as long as you'd like. So when the angels do come, you've gotta listen up. Their songs are short so you can learn them quick. And then when the angels are gone, it's your turn. In the absence of angels, we're not supposed to turn into some heavenly host. That job's above way above our pay scale. In the absence of angels, we're supposed to keep singing their song as best we know how. We're supposed to be shepherds, stewards, who carry the tune. You and I, we carry the angels' tune in whatever clumsy, skilled, on-the-mark or out-of-tune way we can.

Stewardship is about taking something that you know isn't yours, and caring for it. It's about sharing what you have because someone shared with you. It's about singing like an angel, even if you look like a shepherd.

The final irony of all this is that the angels' song never was the angels' song to begin with. It was God's song. God taught it to the angels one Christmas night. And then the angels taught it to the shepherds. And the shepherds taught it others, who taught it to others, who eventually taught it to you. And you, in this life, have a few years to teach some other people the song, too. How does it go? Oh yeah: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

Say it with me: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

Wow. Whatdaya know. You sound just like... angels.