What were the shepherds supposed to think? The quiet of the night was broken by a loud noise such as they had never heard before… a noise that sounded much like voices ringing from the heavens. And when they looked up to see what was making that noise, they were startled by a bright light such as they had never seen before. Of course, they were afraid. We would all be afraid under similar circumstances. But as they watched, and as they listened, the light and the sound resolved into the forms and voices of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
The shepherds must surely have wondered why they, of all people, were receiving this visitation from God’s angelic messengers. They could hardly be counted among those whom God favored. After all, they were among the poorest of the poor in ancient Judean society—outcasts even among their own people. Yet, there the angels were, singing not to kings and aristocrats… not to the wealthy and the powerful… but to them, “shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Their fear gave way to wonder and astonishment. What could any of this mean, except that the world was about to change?
We don’t live in a world that expects to see and hear angels. In fact, our modern world typically rejects the idea of angels as pure fantasy, dismissing those who claim to encounter them as being mentally and emotionally unbalanced. And yet, we continue to delight in the stories of Christmas angels. During the holidays, we decorate our homes with angel figurines, crown our trees with angel ornaments, and sing songs about angels heard on high. We may not believe in angels—many of us—but we are enchanted by the idea of Christmas angels proclaiming peace and good will to our weary, strife-torn world. We are ready for the world to change… desperately ready.
The biblical Christmas angels do not, however, sing their beautiful song of hope in concert halls or shopping malls or even cathedrals. They sing it to shepherds in the fields, to poor country priests, to disinherited carpenters, and to young girls from impoverished families. They may even sing it to us during our own moments of deepest need. Their song brings hope to those who otherwise have no hope. It promises blessing to those who have never expected a blessing. It offers salvation to those whose futures seem brutally bleak.
So, if there are angels singing in our world today, we probably shouldn’t be looking for them in beautiful and fashionable venues populated principally by those whose lives already seem perfect. We should be looking instead in those places where hope is most needed, but least expected… among the homeless, the unemployed, the refugees, the abused, the excluded, the mentally ill, the sick, the essential workers… anywhere souls are being crushed and lives are being destroyed by the political, economic, social, and religious systems of an impersonal and uncaring world. If we watch and listen carefully enough, this is where we may actually see and hear the Christmas angels for ourselves. This is where we may personally experience the deep meaning of the Christmas season as proclaimed by John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
May God grant a blessed Christmas and a hopeful New Year to all.
P.S. Don’t forget to watch and listen for the angels!
P.D.: ¡No olviden de mirar y escuchar a los ángeles!