Essay / Theology

Angels Above to Shepherds Below (Lesson 8: Luke 2)

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We all wonder about angels, and angels are all about wonder. I have so many questions about angels. Do they fly by flapping their wings, or more like Superman? Do they sing? What do you call a group of angels? A herd of cows, a flock of sheep, a what of angels? A choir? A host? An alleluiah of angels? A pyro of angels? There’s so much we don’t know about angels. Can all my questions about angels fit on the head of a pin?

When the angel appears to the shepherds to tell them the good news of the birth of Jesus, he makes his announcement, tells the shepherds how to recognize baby Jesus, and then “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

One angel is really something. But what do you make of a whole sky full of them? (A flap of angels? A fluttering of angels? A chandelier of angels?) In the Old Testament there’s a story about Elisha’s house being surrounded by an angry army and his servant being scared. Elisha says “Fear not. There are more on our side than on theirs,” and when the servant looks again God has opened his eyes to see the hillsides covered with angels. The whole valley around the house of the prophet is one big bowl full of angels. (A bowl of angels? A scoop of angels?)

That must have been what it was like for the shepherds to see the one spokes-angel all at once surrounded by an upside down bowl full of angels, the whole curvature of the sky populated by these mysterious messenger-beings. It’s as if the descent of the Son of God had poked a hole in heaven and all the angels leaked out for a minute. Hark, how all the heavens did ring with their words: we up here in the highest heaven are giving glory to God, and now there will be peace down there among those with whom he is well pleased.

They spoke the message from heaven above, and it echoed off of the hills below, creating an antiphonal echo chamber between earth and sky. It took a host of angels –an army of angels? A rank of angels? An awning of angels? –to get it done, but finally the word of God was coming down from above and being answered from below, as the earth gave back the song that the angels sing, and repeated the sounding joy: Glory to God up in the highest, and peace to men down on earth. He shall be our God, and we shall be his people. The name of God will be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven.


For my church‘s 2014 Christmas concert service, I wrote a set of 9 readings to accompany the night of songs: a Lessons and Carols service. I’m posting the lessons here at Scriptorium Daily from now until Christmas day. Banner design by Josh Kenfield

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