The Singing Army (Luke 2:13)

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Just a quick post today, because my mind has been blown by a post from Pastor Brian Zahnd and I wanted to get the thoughts down quickly, at least while we’re still in the Christmas season.

See, Luke 2:13 talks of a heavenly host of angels appearing to the shepherds and announcing the birth of Jesus. And we’re so used to nativity plays depicting this as little girls in white frocks and tinsel halos that we miss something important.

The ‘host’ is an army.

The Greek word used is ‘stratia’, which has martial connotations, and throughout the Old Testament, God is described as the Lord of Hosts, which again is military imagery. This may be a choir, but it’s a choir of soldiers.

Now, put this into context: Israel is ruled by the Roman Empire. There are troops on the streets. The inhabitants have a long history of knowing what it means for an army to turn up. But this time the army is on their side, right? After all, the angels talk about good news and a saviour and peace; all terms associated with Caesar but which are now being given to Israel’s Messiah.

A choir singing this would be radical enough. Make it an army and maybe the shepherds could be forgiven for thinking that God was about to sweep in and destroy Herod and Caesar and any other enemy of God.

And yet that’s not what happens; as Zahnd points out, there’s more singing than fighting. The Kingdom of God does not arrive through violence, even violence from righteous angels. It arrives through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The story starts here with a song, but it truly finds its ultimate fulfilment in Easter.

Maybe that exposes some of our idolatry. Military might can appear a whole lot more present and physical than the Now-But-Not-Yet Kingdom of Christ, and maybe we’d prefer the reign of God to come through guns and drones and aircraft carriers; praise the Lord and pray he’ll pass us the ammunition. Heck, not long after the angels appeared to the shepherds, Herod slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to assassinate the Messiah. There were parents around Bethlehem who might have been glad of an angelic army.

It’s hard to see a kingdom of peace when your standing in the craters of empire, so hard, in fact, that we can lose the ability to remember that God doesn’t have to play by our rules and with our toys; he can create and resurrect his own Kingdom, rather than build on our broken foundations, no matter how hard that may be to see from the perspective of a year like 2014.

Maybe this is why a particular line from a carol has resonated with me this week:

And man at war with man hears not,
The love song that they bring.
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

We look to God’s army, but we don’t listen to their song; we look for power but we don’t recognise it in cross or cradle. In 2015, let’s pray that this would change.

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