Good News of Great Joy by Katherine Dienes-Williams Organist and Master of the Choristers at Guildford Cathedral
Across the world, time zone by time zone, packed churches resound with singing as we rejoice in the birth of Christ. Beyond the open doors of our churches people watch over flocks, people are homeless, in need, pain, or trauma. Everywhere, angels pierce the darkness, acclaiming their 'Gloria' to shepherds. In carol services, choirs like the one I direct at Guildford Cathedral rise to highest heavens, descants abounding.
Every year I look forward to singing carols for patients and staff at the Royal Surrey Hospital which is visible from the west door of the cathedral. Twenty years ago I had just given birth to our child and left hospital on Christmas Day. I had been sung to by my own choristers the night before as they came singing round hospital wards. And on this day three years ago my mother developed sepsis and was blue-lighted to hospital. The final days of Advent and the feast days of Christmas are days when Christ's birth bringing eternal love jostles with the trials of human life as sheep jostle in fields. Yet, through it all, the Lord is our shepherd.
Reading: Luke 2:8-14
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 Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bonds of cloth and lying in a manger. 'And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!'
Shepherds are, fittingly, the first to hear about the birth of the Lord who is our shepherd. But the 'good news of great joy' is not to be kept to themselves it is 'for all the people'. At Christmas, we, too, can hear the great song of the angels shattering the darkness. We are filled with hope to sustain us through every human experience. And we are sent out to love and to serve.
As a professional musician working in church, I hope that the angels' song 'Glory to God in the highest heaven' can resound not just at Christ's nativity, but throughout the year. In the darkest times, light seems absent, but is present in the music we sing. Shepherds heard angels resounding 'Gloria' and their lives were changed. May our voices and our actions convey the eternal hope of Christ's message to humankind.
Make space today to dwell on these words of Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.’
While Shepherds watched their flocks