One of the most beloved Christmas carols, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” paints a vision of angels “bending near the earth,” heralding to hillside shepherds a message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” on the night of Christ Jesus’ birth. The touching lyrics and lilting melody, which became exceedingly popular in mid-19th-century America, still resonate today in churches and on radio and TV programs.
Christmas carols such as this one are like angels themselves, causing us to pause, listen, and sing along with their inspiring messages. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” refers to angels’ “peaceful wings unfurled” and “harps of gold,” but inspired thought and prayer this time of year can exchange those nostalgic symbols for a more spiritual view of angels – where they are and what they do for us.
The 19th-century religious figure Mary Baker Eddy, in her book “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” describes angels in this way: “God’s thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality” (p. 581).
Anytime we are pausing, like the shepherds of old, to hear God’s thoughts – His messages of goodness and love – we’re entertaining angels. God is infinite Mind, ever present and governing all. Amid holiday preparations, as we’re boarding planes, taking car trips, or even waiting in lines at stores, we can devote ourselves more consistently to hearing “the angels sing,” as the carol puts it. This isn’t dreamy escapism or mental idleness, but actually a kind of prayer that listens for spiritual ideas – God’s in-breaking reality. This spiritual reality, coming to our waiting sense, cuts through the clutter of materialism and pushes us to go deeper, to examine our motives for everything we do and say.
I like to think that angels, or God’s thoughts, give us the wisdom to know what to do, the integrity to carry it out, and the love to rightly impel or motivate that action. Angels can be seen as God’s “steering hand,” uniquely adapted to our personal needs and situations. Divine Mind, the infinite Father and Mother of man and the universe, directs and governs us as surely as He guides the sun, moon, and stars in their mighty courses. More and more we’ll learn to “look up,” not down, as we move through our daily activities, feeling grateful for divine Love’s presence and increasingly obedient to Mind’s pure guidance.
Just as important, perhaps, will be the lesson of learning to “put down” human will, egotism, or a too-determined sense of needing to “get things done” – all of which prevent us from noticing God’s angels and moving in step with them. Such tendencies arise from the misconception that there exist many minds or wills, scrambling around and elbowing one another. Yet the Bible, time and again, echoes the prophet Isaiah’s angelic vision: “I am God, and there is none else” (45:22). It is our purpose and privilege to be instruments of God’s will, agents of His love, not obstructionists. By listening to divine Mind’s direction, or angel messages, we come into our true nature as God’s likeness, imaging forth His righteousness and wisdom. “[T]herefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God” (Isaiah 43:12).
How will we know if angels are at hand? We’ll know their presence “by the love they create in our hearts,” Mrs. Eddy writes (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 306). It will be a love for God and humanity that gives deep-seated peace, despite life’s ups and downs, for as Edmund Sears’s time-honored lyrics attest, “O rest beside the weary road,/ And hear the angels sing.”
Watch this column during December for further insights on how people have found more of the true meaning of Christmas.