There’s a story I heard of a meeting in heaven between three archangels – they had been given by God the task of working how how to spread the good news of Jesus’ birth, and they couldn’t agree!
Gabriel said, “We should go round and tell everyone one at a time. The personal, individual approach worked very well with Mary and Joseph.”
Raphael said, “We should write it all down – that way there will be no mistakes.”
Michael said, “Swords and trumpets! We need swords and trumpets! Nothing less will do!”
But they all knew that they hadn’t really found the right answer yet.
After much discussion, they finally had an idea that they knew would work – it was brilliant, in fact.
“We will write a song!” they said, in excitement. “If we write a really good song, with just the right words, and a fabulous tune, and harmony that makes your heart sing, then we’ll only need to sing it to a few people – it’ll stay in their heads and they won’t be able to forget it – they’ll sing it in the shower, they’ll whistle it down the road, they’ll teach it to their friends, their family, their children. And before you know it, the whole world will know this wonderful news!”
So they did.
They went to a lonely hillside and sang their song to a group of shepherds under the stars – and they even let Michael have his trumpet. The Shepherds were filled with joy, and the song stayed with them – they sang it as they ran down the hill, and into the town, they sang it as the searched for the stable, and they even sang it very quietly as a lullaby when they found the baby at last. Then they went out rejoicing, and sang that song to anyone who would listen – and anyone who wouldn’t too!
The song worked so well that the news spread throughout the world. People sang the song to their family and friends and their children and their children’s children. The song was so good that we’re still singing it – or a version of it – 2000 years later.
That’s why we gather at a service like this. To sing together, to hear the story again in carols and scripture and to join our voices with the angels who are still singing in heaven.
Singing is how we learn, and remember this wonderful story. I bet we’d all be able to write out the words to ‘While shepherds watched’ more easily than the same story in Luke chapter 2!
Some carols were written for this very reason: Once in Royal David’s City was written by Mrs Alexander, a Sunday School teacher, who wrote a hymn for every line of the creed, to teach the children in her class the basics of the faith.
Saint Augustine said, “Anyone who sings, prays twice” – we don’t only learn the stories of the faith, we learn why they matter.
We learn that Jesus shares our sadness as well as our gladness – he weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice. We learn that we can hold those in need before God and know that our prayers are heard – because Jesus is already walking alongside them.
We learn that when we sing “Be near me Lord Jesus” we have already said a prayer, from out of our own needs, and we know that we are not alone.
We learn that when we think of all the complex needs of this troubled world, this isn’t too big a concern to bring to God, because the world belongs to God: we learn that the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the Christchild, on Christmas night and every night.
And we learn that we have an offering to make ourselves: we bring our voices to join with the angels’ song, and we bring our presence with one another in this place, and our love for one another and the world:
What can I give him
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
But what I have I give him:
Give my heart.
This Christmas we can offer ourselves, just as we are, to the one who has already given us everything.