"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 25, 2013
Lord, With the Angels We Too Would Rejoice
by Marian Stoddard

And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, 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, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2: 8-16)

It always spoke to me that the angels didn’t just come to declare, but to sing. I read it now, as I write this, and it doesn’t actually say the word ‘sing,’ but we would all say so. How else do we imagine giving glory to God in majestic unison, if not in music? Many, many of us hear Handel’s glorious music in our minds as we read these words. “Glory to God in the highest!”

Christmas music was joyful music, and it was what I would sing as a child when I was happy, even if it wasn’t December. This sometimes made my next-oldest sister unhappy with me, oh, say, going through the grocery store behind our mother.

When my younger son wanted his bedtime song to be “Angels We Have Heard on High” out of season, I was happy to oblige. I love the music of Christmas.

As I grew older, the more solemn songs touched me also. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,/ and ransom captive Israel,/ that mourns in lonely exile here,/ until the Son of God appear.” The longing for meaning and hope spoke to me, in ways that childhood didn’t yet know. We are all in exile, here on the earth, without our God.

Music is one avenue for my heart to pour out its feelings. (Prayer is another, and there isn’t always any real separation between the two.)

“A multitude of the heavenly host.” The more I experience in this life, the deeper that sinks into my soul. Who was part of that “multitude”? Did it mean the presence of angels that could not be numbered, that in fact the end of them could not be seen, like looking into a set of facing mirrors in a reverent place?

Or were there a finite, visible number, but with the swelling presence of joy and declaration of thousands, millions, or more, that might be felt but not seen through the veil?

I harbor the hope that I was one. I hope that at least somewhere on the periphery, back beyond mortal sight, that I was part of the triumphant press of rejoicing, because this birth, after all, was the beginning point in mortality of all that we had chosen.

Maybe every single one of us was singing. It was the pure, perfect beginning of the promise of what would be. (So are we all born perfect in our own spheres.) He would be the One whose promise would be perfectly realized, and on whom we all depended. There was joy because of our trust that everything necessary would unfold and be accomplished for our redemption.

Those necessary things, choices and events, would be heart-rending. The shepherds marveled, and rejoiced, but Simeon also said to Mary, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.”

Zecharias, his tongue loosed at last in his obedience, prophesied that the Son of God was coming “to give light to them who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace.” His miraculous son John would prepare the way. Together, the witnesses offered sober rejoicing.

I found one of my most cherished carols only in adulthood: “Once in Royal David’s City.” I sing my witness into the last verse:

And our eyes at last shall see him, / Through his own redeeming love./ For that child, so dear and gentle,/ Is our Lord in heav’n above…

He is the key to all that we hope for and everything in which we put our trust. The perfect wonder that is His birth is the deepest meaning of all that would come to pass.

I was sitting in a stake choir practice once, as the tenors were going over their notes and the other sections were listening and waiting. We were preparing a Christmas program.

I thought of the baby in the manger, imagined seeing him as the shepherds did, and suddenly I saw that tiny hand, and arm, lengthen out — growing — and stretched out against the wood of the cross, as it was nailed there for us, for his love of us.

The faith, the awe, of the shepherds doing their ordinary guardian work, out with their flock overnight.

King David had been a shepherd boy when he was called. Christ, the prophesied heir to the throne of David, would talk of himself as the Good Shepherd, and use the images of that familiar and simple life many times in teaching the message he brought. He had come to gather us into his eternal fold.

These shepherds had no wealth or position to advance this king, but they were chosen to celebrate his birth with opened hearts and eyes, representing us all. Do we believe?

I wonder if some of them heard of this teacher, many long years later, who did miracles. He didn’t remain where they lived, he didn’t grow up in their sight, after all. Did they hear, and their hearts prick with memory, and did they come to see, and follow him?

He calls us to follow still.

Newborn King

A humble shepherd’s simple faith —
To hear the song of angels
And heed the call to come,
To recognize earth’s greatest king
Within a stable cave.
Gazing at animals and poverty,
He sees eternal grace.
He kneels to watch the infant hands
In reflex spread and curl.
One day they’ll bless the loaves and fish,
Touch sight back to the blind.
As tiny fingers clutch his own,
His heart sees fingers growing, grown —
Messiah’s hands
Stretched forth to heal the world.

— Marian J. Stoddard


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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