To Hear the Angels Sing
December 23, 2001
This sermon originally appeared in Our Daily Bread
, December 1992.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When
his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they
lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to
expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord
appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do
not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in
her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to
name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord
through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a
son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the
Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital
relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him
Jesus. (Matthew 1:18–25)
Reading from Swedenborg
I once heard angelic choirs praising the Lord, and doing so with
heartfelt joy. I have sometimes heard their praises as sweet singing,
since to one another spirits and angels have melodious voices, and
they hear one another just as well as we hear one another. But no
human singing, however heavenly its sweetness and harmony may
be, can compare with the singing of those angelic choirs.
(Arcana Coelestia #3893)
We come here with a sense of expectancy. Throughout the
Advent season, we have been preparing for Christmas Eve
and for Christmas Day. Our houses have been decorated; we have
listened to Christmas music; we have reached out to long-time
friends and relatives through Christmas cards and greetings; and
we have rejoiced in receiving expressions of love and concern from
people far and near. We have selected gifts for loved ones, symbols
of the gifts the wise men brought to the Christ child. We have
hosted parties or have been guests at festive occasions.
All of these preparations and activities reach their climax on
Christmas Eve. All our past Christmas traditions and celebrations
are part of us as we come here tonight to experience the wonder of
the soft light of the candles, the evergreen trees and poinsettias,
the grand music of the organ, the awesome account of the Lord’s
birth in the Gospel of Luke, and the singing of the carols.
On Christmas Eve there is something in the air that we feel
more strongly than at any other time of the year. It’s not some-thing
we can analyze scientifically or understand philosophically.
Our celebration on Christmas Eve is felt in the deepest recesses of
our souls. We come to hear the angels sing, and to sing with them.
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth, peace, good will toward men.
The incarnation was a cosmic event, heralded in all the heavens.
The angel said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the
city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” As I reflect on
the words of the carols this Christmas, I am struck more power-fully
than ever before by the presence and witness of the angels.
Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light,
With the angels let us sing, Alleluia to our King,
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold.
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King,
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
In glory the hosts of the angels
Came singing his song of praise,
And filling the heav’ns with their music,
In those wonderful old days.
Singing “Glory to God in the highest!”
And “Peace upon Earth,” and then
The mighty chorus of voices pealed forth
“Good will to men.”
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
With the angels let us sing, Alleluia to our King.
When the angels heralded the birth of the Christ child, they sang
to all creation. But it was a group of lowly shepherds, abiding in
the field and keeping watch over their flocks by night, who heard
During this Christmas season, do you hear the angels singing?
We’re often so busy—especially in the weeks before Christmas—
rushing around, shopping, preparing for or attending parties,
traveling to distant relatives, sending out cards to a great list of
names, that the angels could be singing from our rooftop and we
wouldn’t hear them. Swedenborg tells us that there are angels
present with us all the time, messengers of God, to urge, prompt,
encourage, inspire. Yet we are seldom conscious of their presence.
Louis Halle, an author and lover of nature, describes a scene in
Washington, D.C., when a black seafowl, the cormorant, flew low
over the housetops along Connecticut Avenue. Halle wondered whether anyone else in Washington had seen the bird—an awesome
figure of ancient literature. Had anyone else in the city
thought to look up, to be aware of this bird? How often do we
look up, and within, to the source of light and love, to gaze upon
the soaring birds and to hear the angels sing.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Christmas is to be celebrated in heaven and on earth. Many critics
moan that the loudest bell at Christmas time is the bell on the
cash register. Christmas has become grossly commercialized, feeding
on our materialism and worship of consumer goods. Even
staunch church members and conscientious worshipers are caught
up in the hectic whirl of activities that have become part of our
And yet there are signs that more and more people are becoming
aware of the spiritual dimensions to life, and of the need to
acknowledge and recognize the Lord’s presence in their lives. The
Quaker philosopher Rufus Jones predicted almost fifty years ago
that some day a new Copernicus in the field of psychology will
discover that what we have been calling physical or material or
molecular is vastly more penetrated by spirit than we have usually
supposed. There is undoubtedly a remarkable fit between the
inward and the outward. It is like the fit of the glove to the hand,
or like the two blades to a pair of scissors.
This connection is what Swedenborg spoke of as correspondences:
the vital and dynamic relationship between the spiritual
and the natural dimensions of life—the spiritual realm being the
realm of causes, and the natural the realm of effects. The two
dimensions are part of one reality, which we experience when we
co-respond to the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
In a landmark book entitled A Rumor of Angels, sociologist
Peter Berger declared that “only through a belief in the existence of the supernatural—that is, a reality that transcends the reality of
the natural world of everyday life—can man grasp the true pro-portions
of his experience.”
The veil between the natural and spiritual worlds is very thin;
for we are coming to realize that creation is one, and the different
realms or dimensions of life and creation are all related. Leading-edge
physicists and mathematicians are recognizing that there is
no “real” matter—all is energy. Psychology is exploring the common
boundary between psychotherapy and spirituality. Many
psychotherapists are supporting the integration of spiritual values
and psychological growth.
How can we become more aware of the spiritual dimension of
life? Be tuned in to the presence of God and the witness of his
angelic messengers? How can we hear the song of the angels?
The Scriptures urge us to “be still, and know that I am God”
(Psalm 46:10). Our television sets won’t bring us the music or drama
that we want to see and hear unless we are tuned in to the
right channel. We must make conscious choices of how we are
going to spend our time and energy, how we are going to plan our
days and activities. When we make time for meditation and
reflection, paying attention to our dreams and visions, cultivating
the intuitive side of our lives, harkening to the testimony of the
prophets and the mystics, we become aware of the yearning of our
spirits, and of the Lord’s call forward.
As we become more self-aware in our spiritual growth and
development, the channels of our inmost being are opened more
fully to the divine. As we deepen and strengthen our intimate relationships,
and experience growing bonds of love between us and
significant people in our lives, we are experiencing the presence of
God. As we respond to the stirrings and promptings of our higher
nature, and recognize their origin in the world of the spirit, we
increasingly open ourselves to the divine inflowing. As we give
priority to appreciating the wonders of the world around us and within us, we become more fully alive, and experience what Jesus
called the abundant life (John 10:10).
As we join in this Service of Lights, and as we go forth from
this place to celebrate Christmas with family and loved ones, may
we join in the song of the angels:
Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation!
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God in the highest!
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
Lord Jesus, as we approach the wonder of Christmas, we pray that
you will make your presence felt through the rush and busyness.
Touch us with the infinitely greater reality of your birth into our
world, and reveal its soul-changing effects on us as individuals, as
a community, as a nation, and as a world. Help us to feel your
divine peacefulness coming through the candles, the carols, the
greenery, and the sacred gatherings of Christmas. Calm all our
nervous tensions and worries, cut through the commercialism,
and give us the gift that cannot be wrapped in paper: the gift of
your presence coming to us and abiding with us. Amen.
Rev. Ernest Martin