Author's note: at this point in the telling of the Biblical story, one might think that the angels sang one short verse of "To God Be The Glory" and closed the curtain to go about their heavenly duties. While the account itself is brief, try to recall, if you can, a truly compelling worship experience. For instance, I stood in nearly the back row of the upper deck of Anaheim Stadium one night and sang songs of heavenward praise with about 60,000 men. The resounding chorus of male voices and the sense of awe toward the One we worshiped made each song beg to be sung forever! Could it have been any less for the angel choir that night?
Even the sheep seemed deeply content in the presence of heavenly light. To be sure, no work of darkness could penetrate their hillside as the angels sang and shouted and leapt and danced all around them. Much later, the night watchmen tried to describe what they saw. When one said, "They were above us, up as high as the clouds," another would counter, "But they were all around us, as if almost touching the pasture!" Young Jonathan always mentioned, "One of them was right in front of me, then took a giant leap, landing behind me! It was almost as if he went right through me!"
The shepherds had never heard such music. The melodies were so intricate that it was as if they secreted a light of their own. One angelic flute player would run up the scale to a very high trill and literally rise up in the sky with the pitch of his instrument, gradually floating back down to laugh and sing and dance with the others. On and on their chorus rang. The shepherds themselves had begun to laugh and dance and shout and leap just like the angels.
Long into this celebration, an angel began to sing a song that majestically announced the creation of a world. The shepherds felt, rather than understood with their minds, the declaration of light, water, earth, plants, sea creatures, and animals. The music crescendoed to a solemn declaration: "Humans in Our image!" As those words rang out, a renewed celebration broke out among the angelic chorus. They were celebrating God's creation of Man!
In a few moments, though, the sounds became dark. Every angel went from leaping and dancing to quietly singing mournful tones. The shepherds realized the significance and began to weep. The angels themselves were mourning the Rebellion. From this point, the music rose and fell, then rose and fell again, like the growing swells of a sea beset by a storm. Higher and lower they went. Moments of great rejoicing swallowed by moments of intense emotional pain. Then, silence.
Far back in the chorus of angels, a trumpet began to play a single, simple tune. Quickly, the shepherds noticed that it was the same melody that had begun this night of worship. At the end of the first musical phrase, a second unseen trumpet picked up a harmony. A moment later, other horns joined in, then the harps and percussion started adding depth. Angels, who had stood solemnly for a long time, began to move. Later, the shepherds said that it looked like they were shimmering lights that grew in intensity every moment.
Suddenly, an angel jumped. Then another; and another. The sound, the light and the movement would have terrified someone who came upon them unbidden. But the shepherds were invited! The were shouting, singing, leaping and dancing again! Over and over, with joy they leapt to the sky.
And they realized that they were alone!
The sun was shooting orange streaks on the high clouds in the eastern sky. To the west, the first of the day watch was coming over the crest of the hill.
"What do we do?" cried Jonah. The others added their voices to his question.
Jezreel thought a moment. "Our relief is here. Let us go into Bethlehem now. We will see for ourselves what the angel told us!"
To my readers: the events surrounding the birth of Christ are given extensive coverage in Scripture. The parts we don't always know about are the human elements, especially from the viewpoint of Jesus' participants. My attempt this Christmas is to stay true to the Biblical text, while shading in what it may have been like "between the lines." Please distinguish my ruminations from God's Word by reading the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke. My hope is that reading my words impacts you even a tiny percentage as much as writing them has impacted me.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Christmas At Innermost: Shepherds