St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Angels We Have Heard In Wal-Mart”
Collect: O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Christmas I readings
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
The Angels came around that day. They had been waiting as long as there was Time. When the first dawn was new this day was planned. It is so hard to stay quiet when you have something important to say. It is so hard to stay quiet before jumping up and shouting, “Surprise!” Think of all those angels, the heavenly host, holding their breath for years upon years, centuries over centuries, millenia uncountable. And in the fullness of that Time, the Angels who had been holding their tongues let loose in Song...
[Sing] Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo.Glory to God in the highest. It was beyond belief, and who do you think heard it? Did kings and queens show up to hear the angels sing? No. It wasn’t kings and queens. Did mighty warriors with strong armies show up to hear the singing? No. There were no mighty armies. Who would God pick to hear the news that Good News had come to the earth, that a Savior had come? God chose someone who no one else would ever choose. God chose the people who would have been picked last for any team.
If it was in our country, with the way we do things, it may have been a garbage dump with Angels singing to the workers with the garbage trucks. It may have been at a prison with the people hearing the heavenly voices through the bars of their cells. It may have been in a camp of homeless people huddling together to stay warm. God chose the people who needed to hear Good News the most, and started with them.
The Shepherds were not bad, but they had a nasty job this time of year. They were “living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” This time of year, when Jesus was born, they had to do that to help the ewes, the mommy sheep, give birth to their lambs. It was a messy business, and because of that they were considered “unclean.” But that did not matter to God. God wanted everyone invited to this party, and so the angels started with the last ones any of us would think to ask.
And when the heavenly choirs let loose the sound they made! It was the greatest sound the human ear could ever hear, the greatest thing they could ever imagine. That is, until they thought about the words they were saying.
You see, it was not about the concert. The newspaper is not about the paper. The newspaper is about the messages inside of it. And the angel’s song was about the news, the Good News of great joy. It was Good News for them. It was Good News for us over 2,000 years later. Jesus, the Messiah is born!
They got so excited, the shepherds ran to see this thing for themselves, and they told everyone they saw the miracle that we call Christmas.
The shepherds were the first ones to hear that the One they had been waiting on for so long had finally shown up. Many had been waiting so long that they had forgotten that they were waiting, and guessed that this was the way life was. And that message that everything was about to change was the Good News.
Angels shared that Good News from God, and their message is still Good News to us over 2000 years later.
What is it you think an angel looks like? Does an angel always have wings? Does angel always wear white? Does an angel have long flowing hair? Sometimes. That is how we tend to draw them anyway. But I think that angels can come in all shapes and sizes. Mostly they don’t have wings, I don’t think. I think most of the time, God’s messengers look just like most of us.
Last week I saw an angel. Really. No wings. No flowing hair. In fact, she was not too tall, and she had a really short hair cut. She was a worker at a local store. Now do I think she was from heaven? No more than any of us are, because maybe all of us are.
But she gave me a message that I needed to hear.
It was early, really early, last Saturday morning. I had run into the store, already late for what I had to get done. And as I wandered looking for the things I needed I got confused looking in the wrong places. I got frustrated. I got mad. Mostly at myself for being late. I had a whole day of stuff I was in charge of, and I did not have time for this. I finally got checked out and because I was in a hurry I was carrying everything and was rushing to get to my car.
Now the woman’s job was to check receipts and to make sure you got everything you paid for and that you did not have anything that you did not pay for. Because I was in a rush I had put my receipt in my wallet because I normally do not get stopped. Maybe it was because I was rushing. I do not know why she asked me to stop.
So she asked to see my receipt. And I am so sorry for what happened next. I got frustrated and upset. She said they made her ask, and then I said something not nice. I could tell by the look on her face that I had hurt her. But she paused and politely said, “You have a good day.”
I huffed out to the car, and got everything put away in the trunk. And then it struck me what I had done. And that is when God started talking to me. Like he came to the Shepherds, God’s love is for all of us, but especially those that need it most. And someone who has to work early on a Saturday morning probably needs love, not rudeness. And I decided to do something very hard.
I walked back into the store. I did not care that I was late. This was more important. I went back, and my angel there at the doorway saw me coming and she tensed herself waiting for me to be rude again.
But I went up to her and said, “I was just incredibly rude. You did not deserve that. I was frustrated, and not with you, but I took it out on you. I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?”
That actually surprised her. And that is when my angel smiled. She said, “That has never happened before.” She let me know that she did forgive me. And then she hugged me, and kissed my cheek and said, “Merry Christmas.”
When the angels sang to the Shepherds it was them saying Merry Christmas. Now when I was rude to the woman doing her job, I treated her like she was less than me. And when she chose to be nice, she chose to be MUCH bigger than I was in that moment. She chose to be an angel, especially to someone who was acting like the Least. She chose to share love even to someone like me.
Even priests can make mistakes, big ones sometimes. And when I chose to think less of myself, I found a way to go and act more like Jesus wants us to act. Humbly. Lovingly. Graciously. She gave me Grace and Love, when I did not deserve it. And that is an angelic message if I ever heard one. Jesus came to give the same message that my angel gave me. We are forgiven. We are loved. And that is what Christmas is. Giving love and grace. And when we do that, maybe we are angels, too.
[Sing] Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo.Merry Christmas! Amen.