Sermon: When Angels Sing

angel1[Given on Sunday, December 21, 2014,  by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church –  Kansas City, MO] Luke 1:37 (1:27-38) “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae; Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Ecce ancilla Domini. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

Ave Maria, gratia plena,…….

Et Verbum caro factum est. Et habitavit in nobis.

Ave Maria, gratia plena,…….

Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genetrix. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Oremus: Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde; ut qui, Angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus, per passionem eius et crucem, ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary: and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.” I like that translation, but allow me for a minute to alter it just a little – “The Angel of the Lord sung unto Mary: and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

In my sanctified imagination, it strikes me that the Annunciation is more than a declaration, but it was a bold, masterful motet sung in several parts. The Annunciation is an event that is so beyond human capacity to conceive or understand that the only suitable container to hold it is that of melody, harmony, rhythm, and cadence that we refer to simply as music.

Music often holds human emotions and experiences that exceed the capacity of human language. It’s why African slaves, suffocating under the yoke of American slavery were able to, against all odds, sing “over my head I hear music in the air, there must be a God somewhere.

It’s why Thomas Dorsey, the so-called “Father of Gospel Music,” was able to transcend the immense grief of losing his wife and newborn child in a 24-hour period, and write the famous words “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.”

It’s why upon hearing about how God was going to bless her, Mary burst into song, singing “He that is mighty hath magnified me and holy is His name…”

Music has a way of transmitting and conveying that which surpasses human understanding and so it strikes me that when the Archangel Gabriel burst into Mary’s life, he did so with a 16 bars and a hook.

Something happens when angels sing.

As I think about this event, I can’t help but imagine the effect that this experience had on Mary. Mary – a woman in the face of patriarchy. Mary – Jewish woman in the face of Roman Imperialism. Mary – a poor, Jewish woman in the face of economic exploitation. I wonder what song Mary sung before her encounter with Gabriel. I wonder what rendition of “Nobody knows the trouble I see” passed over her lips. I wonder what version of “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” resounded in the recesses of her vocal chords I wonder what rendition of “Just another sad, love song” filled her days. I wonder what song Mary sung before her encounter with Gabriel. And maybe I am projecting my own experience onto Mary.

Maybe, she was just fine in her life until Gabriel came with his Oboe. But I know that if I was Mary, it would’ve been very tempting to sing the blues all day long. I know this because in many ways I am Mary, and maybe you are too. Our world of late has given us many valid reasons to sing the Blues.

But something happens when angels sing.

You see, when angels sing, their songs “become for us bearers of the new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.” Their songs bring with them “the radiance of the far heights, the lofty regions, and [give] to all our days the life and magic of the stars.”[1] When angels dare to lift their heavenly voices, their songs grant to our lives a buoyancy that helps us to traverse the treacherous storms of this life. I am reminded of the classic Gospel song “Order My Steps” which suggests “When I need a brand new song to sing, show me how to let your praises ring!” It might be, beloved in Christ, that when we have had enough of singing the Blues, when we have had enough of singing those sad love songs, that angels burst onto the scene and remind us to let God’s praises ring!

Something happens when angels sing their songs of blessing, boldness, and boundlessness.

When angels sing their songs of blessing we hear the sweet voice of the Master whispering to us His original intent for our being. No matter what the world says, we are “blessed.” Gabriel came crashing into Mary’s life and look at the first thing he said “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you!” Gabriel’s greeting must’ve come as a surprise to Mary because the Bible says she was “perplexed” at his greeting. Maybe Mary wasn’t used to hearing that she was favored. Maybe she wasn’t used to hearing that she was oozing with God’s divine presence. But Gabriel’s greeting spoke the truth of her blessedness. I

n Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen suggests that hearing the voice that calls us “blessed” takes hard work. “To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing – that demands real effort.”[2]

I wonder how our world would be different if more people were able to hear of angels singing their “blessedness.” Let me come down your street, I wonder what your life would look like if you could be still long enough to hear angels singing your blessedness. Perhaps that is the work that God is calling you to as we prepare to hear angels heralding the birth of Christ – to hear the sweet songs of angels singing your blessedness.

When angels sing, not only do we hear them singing of our blessedness, but we hear them singing of boldness.

Gabriel bore a message of boldness to Mary because the mission to which she was called into would propel her to “boldly go where no man [or woman] had ever gone before.” She was called to literally bear the Word of God in her flesh. She was called to be the Prophet of Prophets, to bear in her womb the vehicle for the salvation of the world and redemption of Creation. That takes guts.

It occurs to me that we as a Church are called to hear that song of boldness – to leave this place bearing the Word of God in our flesh, pregnant with potential, and motivated by mission to be agents of the salvation of the world and the redemption of Creation. We are called to have guts.

Each of us is called to engage in conversations and relationships with spiritual ears attuned to hear the cares, and deep concerns, and dreams of our community and to find ways of connecting those desires with God’s dream for the world. Each of us is called to engage in the missionary work, not of growing the Church, but if being the Church. We are called today to hear angels sing of boldness.

When angels sing, not only do we hear them singing of our blessedness, and not only to we hear them singing of boldness, but we also hear them singing of God’s boundlessness.

The Archangel Gabriel explodes through Mary’s window with a message that she will conceive and bear a son who will turn the world upside down, who will change both hearts and empires, and she responds from a limited human framework. But the Angel of the Lord had to dismantle that [narrow, limited, myopic, constricting, confining, inadequate, insufficient] framework in order to get her to conceive in her mind before she could conceive in her womb that with God nothing shall be impossible.

Beloved, before we can ever hope to change the world, we have to be open to our own hearts and minds to being changed by the power of the Spirit. Unchanged hearts don’t change worlds. Only hearts that have been set on fire by the Holy Spirit can set the world on fire with the boundless, incandescent love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s what Church is. That’s why we come to this place every week – with the hope that at some point your heart will be changed, strangely warmed, converted, renewed, and lifted to a place that you take the limits off of God. We have to believe that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”[3] We are called to hear angels sing of God’s boundlessness.

When angels sing, we hear them singing of blessedness, of boldness, and of boundlessness. We hear their trumpets heralding possibilities beyond the narrowness of our vision. So let us pray that we may prepare our hearts with joy to be bearers of that new world.

Let us pray,

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


[1] Howard Thurman. “Saddle Your Dreams” in The Inward Journey, 6th Printing (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2007), 67.

[2] Henri Nouwen. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, 10th Anniversary Ed. (New York: The CrossroadPublishing Company, 2013), 76.

[3] Ephesians 3:20 (KJV)

Advertisements