Angels We Have Heard on High

Hope is a big deal for me. 

Two reasons. One is a son whose continues to battle opioid addiction and for whom this season does not seem to hold much light. Grandchildren are the other. Both strike my heart, although in different ways. For both, the matter of hope moves beyond the theoretical or the nonchalant. For one, a matter of life or death, literally; for the others, the shape of the path towards abundant life.

A large part of me wishes that hope could remain a word, outlined in sparkles, on a Christmas card.

But the tractor-beam power of addiction extends far beyond sentimentality or nostalgia. In British Columbia, six to 7 people a day die from drug overdose. If that trend holds during Advent, 175 people may not be alive to open Christmas presents.

As a newly retired person, part of me is in a hurry. I want to maximize the “go-go” stage of this part of my life before it slides into the “slow-go” and then the “no-go” phases. Is retirement not advertised as “me time?” I would prefer to pretend that “it will all work out.” But the grandchildren.

What will become of them in a future be marked by change, disruptive in both intensity and frequency. Given humanity’s report cards to date, our ability to modify the future outpaces our ability to think morally or strategically about the implications of those modifications. So I wonder.

What will happen when info-tech bonds with biotech? Implants will replace the current wearable technology, and notifications of changes needed in diet and movement will be automatically generated, sent perhaps to our smartphone and the data banks of the medical system and/or insurance company.

Technology is one of the three significant game-changers creeping over the horizon. The other two horsemen are global warming, to which humanity does not seem able to respond in a substantial way, and the renewed prospect of nuclear war. International tensions between states holding different political viewpoints and ethical standards carry a substantial threat for hundreds of millions of people, if not the planet itself. And this is not even to mention the epidemic of loneliness and anxiety, the crisis of meaning, and a malignant global economy that already infect our society.

Some days I empathize with Sam Keen.

I stumble, unstable on shifting ground. My mind wanders through layers of rubble, discarded beliefs, outworn creeds, broken hopes, shattered illusions, bones of failed heroes and false saviours… Wherever I stand, tectonic plates rumble. I am earthquake-prone…
We cannot easily locate God in the house of our longing, yet we remain haunted; God’s missing presence echoes throughout the empty rooms… (the absence of faith) depositing its driftwood of nihilism and violence on the shore…
devoid of a vision of the sacred that we need to create a hopeful society. We suffer from a spiritual autoimmune disease…
​​​Instead of confronting our global problems—poverty, injustice, hunger, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and small arms—our imaginations have been seized by something akin to our love of Disneyland.

The picture of the future is easy to paint with dark colours. Where is the light?

Recently, I have become curious about the role of angels in the Christmas story. They appear at a variety of places, announcing “Congratulations! You’re a winner. You’re pregnant” to Mary, a “hang in there” word to Joseph, and “Surprise! You’re not alone!” to Elizabeth. In these instances the angels are messengers, announcers of a New Reality beyond expectation. 

The famous scene where a “heavenly host” appears to the shepherds “abiding in the field” gives another view.

The expectations of my friend Ed Searcy echo many of ours. “I had always imagined a lovely choir singing in angelic harmony.”

In this scene though the angels are warriors, the heavenly host is an army. No wonder the shepherds were afraid. “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2) was not the gentle song of an English boy’s choir but probably carried more the feel of the battle chant of an army about to engage, swords clanging on shields.

To return to Ed.

I think that I know what God’s army is doing here on this night. It is here because this is a story about how God overcomes the trouble we know, that our city and country knows, that this world of nations and this creation knows. There is a lot of trouble in here and out there. The trouble that seems too much for us to handle, to resolve, to overcome. The birth of a baby in Bethlehem hardly seems reason to imagine that the ache and grief and oppression will be ended. But the shepherds see otherwise.

I take heart from the image of a night sky filled with warrior angels in no small part because the scene implies that God takes seriously the challenge to hope, to new life, to freedom, to justice.

My life, and those I love, need more than routine words easily mouthed. Platitudes will not cut through despair, the power of addiction or the anxiety of a future spinning on the edge.

Platitudes will not cut through despair, the power of addiction or the anxiety of a future spinning on the edge.

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The battle has been joined. The forces which seed despair are being engaged. I try and keep my eyes and heart open because one never knows what may appear in a dark sky.

Where are the pressure points of hope and despair for you this Advent?

Thanks for being part of the Wondering tribe!

Cover image by mamaru on

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