2018 is the five year mark of my parents’ leaving this planet to live face to face with Jesus. Dad left suddenly in June, my mother, just as surprisingly, on December 31. December is always bitter sweet. Bitter for my loss of their human presence, sweet for their gain.
Recently Ed and I enjoyed the gift of a Christmas concert from our daughter and son-in-law. As I joined in the songs about shepherds and angels, I began to wonder what it must have felt like to be one of those shepherds mentioned in the Book of Luke.
Shepherds were some of the poorest of poor in the land. They were uneducated and not raised with the privilege of learning Scripture. Over their lifetime they possibly had heard about the prophecies of a Redeemer who would make all things new. Over the hundreds of years waiting, many people thought that in addition to the spiritual renewal of the nation of Israel, it also meant renewal of all things political and economical. But of how much the chosen shepherds knew or believed, only God was aware.
So here are the downtrodden, poor, uneducated and unaccepted by all tribes of their nation, doing their thing: Sleeping by fires that not only kept the wolves from their gathered flocks, but also kept them warm. Awakened by a blinding light, they are shocked. Is it dawn already? Surely not.
They shield their eyes to perceive that the entire sky is lit. And, then, the music of voices in harmonies never heard by any man, woman, or child. Heavenly harmonies fill not just the air around them, but seem to consume their very souls, as well. And though the sound is truly uplifting, they are afraid. And even more afraid when out of the light comes the form of one they call an angel, who stands in front of them.
Their trembling is quelled when the angel tells them not to be afraid for he brings news of great joy for all people: That very day, in the city of Bethlehem, their Redeemer is born! To verify what the angel shares, he tells them their sign is a swaddled baby, lying in a manger of all things, in that same Bethlehem!
Hundreds of thoughts zip through the minds of these astounded shepherds. Am I awake? This must be a dream! The Redeemer has come at last? But born in Bethlehem?
They shake their heads to make certain of their alertness. To their greater wonder, the light in the sky forms into millions of other angels who sing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of good will!”
How long did the angel voices permeate the beings of the shepherds and cells of every living thing on the hill? Hours? Moments?
When the angel song ends, dawn has begun to reach its colored arms across the land. With eyes wide open and mouths that cannot yet form words, they look at each other around the dying embers of their fire.
As one, they leap up and chatter of the night that still feels dreamlike. “Let’s go!” says one. “Yes!” says another. “We’ll bring our sheep into Bethlehem. We must see if what the angel said is true or we will never rest again.”
We know what they discovered.
A few hours before my mother died, 2,000 miles from me, the Lord gave me the phenomenal gift of a dream where my father greeted her. The light swirling around him was white and yet all colors. He was younger than I had ever known him and he called to my mother as he reached out his hand to take hers. He twirled her in one of their old jitterbug moves, which made the lush black hair of her youth swing out and made her laugh as I had never heard. Daddy said, “Come on, Elaine, I want you to meet Jesus,” and he began to run with her. But he paused. “Listen to the music, Elaine. Isn’t it the most glorious sound you’ve ever heard?” And as they skipped off together, their laughter pealed through the heavens and then they began to sing in voices that were both their own and those of angels. I wrote out the dream and asked my sister to read it to Mom, feeling it was important for her. Recently I realized that the dream was a gift to me. I had been so heartbroken not to have been called when hospice knew she was so very close to dying. The gift to me was peace in the knowledge that the one she had loved for over 64 years was with her as she crossed over. I now know it wasn’t a message I had to share with my mother; she actually lived my dream as she took her last breath.
The shepherds heard the song of angels. It is the same song of praise by the angels that called my parents into the Light, as they entered hand in hand.
The Christmas song is of redemption, for God does make all things new. The shepherds didn’t become wealthy or educated or even respected by their tribe. My mother wasn’t miraculously healed before her final moment on earth. But they were all given the song of life eternal that praised the King of kings born on Christmas Day. When we acknowledge the babe in the manger for who he is and respond to the angels’ song – whether it be as we live here or are leaving the earth – our hearts are truly made new in him, and that is all that matters.
May the Song of Christmas permeate your being and fill you to overflowing with hope, peace, joy and love.