There are two facts I am about to share with you about the Christmas story you might not have known or thought about much. Both of these facts have to do with those mystical beings who do all of the announcing for the incarnation story. Ready? 1) Angels are scary. 2) Angels are tone deaf. Did either of these catch you by surprise? I am guessing that many of you knew the truth about the first one, but did the second fact catch you by surprise? Well, I have to be honest here, this is actually only a reasonable hypothesis of mine. There is nowhere in scripture that actually comes out and says angels are tone deaf. That said, this hypothesis is, in my opinion, a reasonable conclusion to an actual fact most of you probably did not know. The real second fact is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that angels sing.
Before we get to that, let us look a little closer into the first fact: angels are scary. In Luke’s nativity account we see angels showing up three different times to make certain announcements. The first of those occasions was when the old man Zechariah was in the Temple fulfilling the daily duties there. Gabriel shows up, Zechariah freaks out, and the first thing the angel says, “Don’t be afraid Zechariah.” He then goes on to announce the birth of John, the forerunner to the coming Messiah.
A couple months later Zechariah’s niece is going about her day in a small village in Galilee. Gabriel shows up and says, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Mary was scared witless and must have had a deer in the headlights type of look because the Bible describes her as dazed and confused. The very next thing Gabriel says, “Don’t be afraid.” Do you see a pattern starting to emerge?
The third appearance by the angels occurs in the hills outside the little village of Bethlehem about nine months later. A few farmers are out there with their livestock (and a little drummer boy?) when an angel appeared in the sky, lighting up the night. The shepherds were terrified and before the angel could bring them its good news, it had to bring down their heart rates. The angel says, “Don’t be afraid. I have good news for you and everyone.”
Don’t be afraid. It isn’t only Luke who claims this is how the angels usually have to start their messages. When the angels at the tomb announce the resurrected Christ, once again it is the first thing they say. When an angel speaks to Hagar, Abraham’s servant, in the desert he tells her to not be afraid. When Sampson’s mom is describing the angel who spoke to her, she says it was “terrifying to see”. Over and over again throughout scripture, the most common first reaction anyone has to an appearance of angels is fear. Angels are scary.
Are angels tone deaf? Well, we do know for a fact that there were no angels “sweetly singing over the plain”. No matter what translation you look at, the heavenly host of angels was praising God and saying… The two other most likely places you would expect to find angels singing would be in Isaiah and John’s visions. In one they “say”, in the other, they “call out to each other”. There is no singing going on. Angels cry out, proclaim, shout, exclaim, speak, and say but nowhere in all of scripture do they sing.
There are only two reasonable options for why this would be so. The first is my hypothesis. Angels are tone deaf. They simply cannot carry a tune and any attempt to do so is embarrassing and so they do not bother. The second option that would also make sense is because they have a reputation as tough guys to maintain. They have carefully developed this aura so that everyone who sees them shakes in their boots. How could they maintain that fear if they even once were caught belting out some Broadway tunes for Jesus? Reputations take lifetimes to develop and moments to destroy. Think about it. Who are some tough guys you know? Would they seem so tough if you saw them singing? Could you picture Mr. T belting out Justin Bieber’s “Love Me”? How about having John Wayne and Clint Eastwood team up for a heartwarming rendition of Endless Love? To be honest, I can picture the Rock doing some Samoan Island song and dance, but could you picture Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Liam Neeson, and Bruce Willis teaming up to form a barbershop quartet? Never gonna happen. Tough guys have a rep to maintain and we have already established that angels most definitely are tough guys.
Seriously, though, do angels sing? Who knows. The Bible never says they do, but it never says they don’t. It is a fun fact, but certainly nothing we can make any doctrines about. Where the Bible is silent so should we be. Know who does sing? God does. He delights over us in song. Know who else sings? We do. There aren’t just a few commands for us to sing praise to God. There aren’t even just dozens of such commands. In the Psalms alone we are commanded more than sixty times to sing praises to God.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to obey those commands every chance I get. There are just so many reasons to sing praises to God and the greatest of those is that God loved us so much He chose to abandon heaven and come dwell among us. Jesus incarnation is one of the greatest demonstrations of love we could possibly imagine and it certainly is worth a song, or two, or twenty-five. So this Christmas you might not find any angels sweetly singing over the plains, but you sure can hear me sweetly singing in the shower, and in the car, and walking down the street, and in my church, and at my desk and…