Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on December 23, 2014.
I hear the angels high in the hills Up between the trees are the Ponderosa pine and the Black Hills spruce. Down through the snow-covered meadows, the opposing discs of bush and rock and the long stalks of cold, brown grass that are deserted above the ice. I hear the angelic voices in the overtones of the wind through the buffalo gaps. I hear them along the frozen river beds winding down from the mountains through the needles. I hear them announcing the coming of the Lord.
In a sense, of course, to speak of angels in the wind is simply to construct an allegory. It’s a way of saying that if we are ready to be reminded, even the sound of the wind can remind us of the first Christmas when the angels were talking to shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Our days are full of such memories if we are careful; Our lives were full of occasions to remember. Just think of the seasons: the world is witness. It whispers holy things / fallen nature and new grace that springs. So why not hear a little Christmas in the wind? The more we are ready to be asked, the more this world seems to be reminiscent of the divine – even our senses are overwhelmed. Our daylight thoughts. Our numinous dreams.
And amen to this pious prayer. Yes, always yes, to remember the Christmas story. I love the Santa Clauses with their bells, the Salvation Army’s call to charity on the sidewalks of American cities. I love the shops with candy canes and sleigh bells on the windows. I even love the muzaked Christmas carols in the elevators and the urban trees and the over-sweet candy from the neighbors and the fruit cakes like depleted uranium and the schoolchildren’s nativity scenes and the advent calendars and trips to the grocery bank. and the goose of the season. Why not be happy for heaven’s sake? So much around us evokes memories of the cause of Christmas joy.
But I mean something more than allegory here. A little more than pious metaphor and the familiar cheers of the season. I mean that a few days ago heavenly sounds really flowed over a snowy field. I mean that this December, here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, on the highest registers, the screams of heavenly voices could really be heard. I mean that the actual angels were actually here and actually sang messages of great joy, and I actually heard them. I was not only reminded of the biblical stories of angels who came to Zacharias, to Mary – to shepherds who sang, “Glory to God on high and good will towards men.” I was allowed to do a little of that for a moment Understanding the Great Secret: The supernatural pressures on the ordinary universe that tried to break through, and for a moment the world changed. Calculated. Done differently, strange and new.
I think a vague intuition of this secret is why I have always loved Christmas. This is the reason to embrace the madness of the vacation. The reason to indulge in the thousand day nurseries, the illuminated decorations, the secular reindeer and the commercialized giving.
Are you ideal? No, but there is little on earth, and the almost medieval festival of modern Christmas serves at least to reduce the barrier between this and the next world. The juiciest Christmas carols have their purpose; The best Christmas films have their purpose. I appreciate the theological density of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel”, but I can howl joyfully (and voicelessly) along with the absurdity of “The Little Drummer Boy” and find tears in my eyes when I “I Saw Three Ships “Listen. “Even the manic silliness and sentimentality of the season work towards God’s purpose. In the emotional storm and in the snowstorm of the Christmas symbols, we open the small mystical gaps through which the angels slide.
As a sinner – corrupt and mentally ill, heartbreaking and messed up in my mind – I sometimes wonder what this world looks like to the saints. The universe must glow, every day a holiday, a holy day, like the blinding sunlight of clean snow and sharp eddies of sparkling ice. But it doesn’t take individual grace, or special holiness, to feel the life of the Christmas season. Parts of the wall are collapsing, and through the cracks everyone can see something we normally hide from ourselves: Christ himself in the faces of the poor and afflicted. The treasures of charity are in heaven. The otherworldly beauty of nature. The joy of creation in the objects around us. The almost sacramentality of everything real.
This December I heard the angels sing. Actually they heard their voices high in the wind, over a western meadow that was frozen stiff and covered with the fallen snow. Listen and you will hear them too – from the hills and the cold trees, the Ponderosa pine and the Black Hills spruce. Along the icy river bed, through the brush and over the rocks. All these voices that praise, praise, rejoice: a vortex of joy that deserves everything. Just listen and you will hear the angels too.