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'Glory On' -- an Angel's Storyby Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Edward Burne-Jones, 'An Angel Playing a Flageolet' (1878) tempera and gold paint on paper, Sudley House, Liverpool, England.
The headmaster delivered a flowery introduction, praising the speaker for his service at Bethlehem and standing guard at the Empty Tomb. On and on he went. Finally, he motioned to the speaker. Nervously, the angel cleared his throat and then began.
Thank you, headmaster, for that gracious introduction. But really! All the glory should go to our God, not to his servants! Nevertheless, young angels, I have a great story to tell about His glory. I know you've all studied about it in your classes, but I want you to hear it from an eyewitness. I was there.
It began when I was a junior, away from the Academy on an internship with a Mentor Angel. Suddenly, my Mentor was summoned to travel by swift flight to a dark hillside just a mile south of Bethlehem, and I went along. The hillside was still, except for a few sheep moving about on the ground below us. Some shepherds were talking quietly.
But when we got there, we all waited in the darkness, "glory off." Someone was giving instructions. "Arrange yourselves in ranks of hundreds, shortest in front, tallest in the rear. And quietly! You don't want to mess up what God has planned for the occasion."
Actually, I was too young for such an important event, but my Mentor motioned me to take a place in the front row, and put his finger over his lips to remind me to maintain silence.
Now Gabriel was brought out. Even in those days, he was famous because of his work with Daniel many centuries before. And then it began.
Gabriel went from "glory off" to "full glory" in a split second. The effect was stunning! He stood at full height, shining in all the Father's glory -- and the poor shepherds looked like they had been struck down. The official account read: "The glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid."
Young angels, that's an understatement. Those shepherds thought the end of the world had come! It took Gabriel several minutes to calm them down. You know, humans have an iris in their eyes that gets large in the dark. But when a bright light suddenly comes on, it can actually cause them pain. I think that's what happened.
We were all standing silently in the ranks, "glory off" for the moment, when Gabriel began to speak:
"Fear not: for, behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you;
You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger."
At first, I really didn't know what was going on. But then I realized what all the hubbub in heaven these last few weeks had been about. God's Son was coming to earth. And not in all his regal splendor, but as a tiny human Child. My dear angels, he went through all the compression and rigors and indignity of human birth. God's Son, mind you!
And the manger part ... you really need to understand! You'd expect God's Son to come to the palace of a king. But, no, in all the Father's wisdom, His Son was born as the humblest of the humble, not even in a house, but in a stable. You don't find mangers in king's houses; only in barns. I could see that the shepherds were puzzled too.
But now it was our time. The conductor tapped his baton on a rock to get our attention, lifted his arms, and at the downstroke, tens of thousands of us went "full glory" all at once. Instantly, the hillside was flooded with brilliance like thousands of arc lights. The hills rang as we sang at the top of our voices:
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men."
The words were simple, but the song went on for several minutes, the lines repeating as the melody carried the wonderful words of praise. Like a waterfall, it began high up. The sopranos would trill their lines, then the altos would join in. The tenors would pick it up, finally down to the great bass angel voices of heaven -- all in glorious harmony.
When it was finally over, the conductor motioned for "dim," and gradually we turned down "glory" until it went off completely.
The shepherds seemed stunned, unable to speak. Finally, the boldest of them said, "I don't know about you, but I'm going to find that manger, that Child." He scrambled up and began to run pell-mell down the hillsides to the town below -- followed by the rest of the rag-tag band.
In the meantime, the Mentor Angel motioned for me to come with him. He had been designated as the Witness Angel.
We got there just before the first shepherd peered in the door. A low lamp burned. There was a manger, a cattle trough. And in it was the tiniest Child, all wrapped up snug. And his mother was there. You've seen Mary around heaven, of course. She was looking over the sleeping child, clearly exhausted by her ordeal, but the warmth of her smile beaming. And behind her was her husband Joseph, on his feet, staff in hand, as if standing guard over the Child.
When the shepherds entered the stable, you could see him raise his staff, but as the shepherds explained what they had seen and began to kneel around the manger, he seemed to relax.
Mary asked the shepherds to tell her again what they had seen. And as they recounted the glory on the hillside and Gabriel's message, I could see her smile and her head nod. She said nothing, but I could see it all in her shining eyes. Yes, she was thinking, it was as Gabriel had told her when it began nine months before. Yes, it was true. Yes, it was worth all the struggle and shame and uncertainty and hardship -- all that was past, and all the agony that was yet to come. For she had brought God's Child into His desperately needy world.
Eventually, the shepherds bowed low and then, one by one, got up and left the barn after paying their respects to Mary and Joseph. The Christ Child slept through it all.
Before I close, I need to set the record straight. You've doubtless seen reenactments with angels hovering near the ceiling of the stable. It wasn't that way at all! Oh, we were there all right -- as Witnesses. But we were invisible. Angels on the hillside were visible, but not in the stable!
My Mentor and I were set for "glory off." For now, all the glory in that stable shone from the Child, who would someday save his people from their sins. And for Him it was always "glory on." As one of his followers wrote later,
"We have seen His glory,
glory as of the Only Begotten from the Father,
full of grace and truth."
This is a fictional account of Christ's birth. Scripture passages quoted include Luke 2:9-14 and John 1:14. Copyright © 2015 by Ralph F. Wilson <pastorjoyfulheart.com>. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for use in church service and reprinting in newsletters.
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