“What the gladsome tidings be, which inspire your heavenly song?”
Music has been referred to as the ‘language of angels’. This is such a beautiful and poetic thought; “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful …” (Isaiah 49:13). I believe we can also take this sentiment literally. The Holy Scriptures confirms the presence of heavenly choirs. In Revelations we read; “… and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” (Rev. 5:11)
We also read in the account of the prophet Lehi’s vision; “…he saw the heavens open, and…he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” (1 Nephi 1:8)
Perhaps the most beloved account is when angels heralded the birth of Christ: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 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 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 Saviour, 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 singing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 1: 8-11, 13-14)
Modern accounts are also notable. I stumbled upon a fascinating little book called “90 Minutes in Heaven; a true story of Death and Life” by Don Piper with Cecil Murphy. I found this book recently before boarding a flight home from vacation, and read Mr. Piper’s personal account with great interest. In 1989 Don Piper was on his way home from a conference when his car was totaled by a semi. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and subsequently spent 90 minutes in the next world before miraculously returning to life on earth. Much of the book is dedicated to his painful and inspiring physical recovery. However, among the account of his after-life experience, Mr. Piper devotes a chapter describing the Heavenly Music:
“It was the most beautiful and pleasant sound I’ve ever heard, and it didn’t stop. It was like a song that goes on forever. I felt awestruck, wanting only to listen. I didn’t just hear music. It seemed as if I were part of the music and it played in and through my body. I stood still, and yet I felt embraced by the sounds…as I’ve pondered the meaning of the memory of the music, it seems curious. I would have expected the most memorable experience to be something I had seen or the physical embrace of a loved one. Yet above everything else, I cherish those sounds, and at times I think, I can’t wait to hear them again – in person…Obviously, I can’t really know how God feels, but find joy and comfort in thinking that He must be pleased and blessed by the continuous sounds of praise” (Chapter 3, pages 29-30, 32) Mr. Piper adds that even now, most of his “flashbacks” to his experience actually come as sounds instead of sights.
Perhaps the greatest witness that we have of the heavenly role of music is the way our own hearts and souls respond to beautiful melodies, sweeping orchestral arrangements, a tender solo or majestic choir. Who of us has not experienced a lump in our throat during a heartfelt rendition of our national anthem, or tender tears at a beautifully rendered hymn? Certainly one cannot possibly be closer to heaven than when surrounded by beautiful music. Perhaps one of the main reasons the Christmas season is so magical and holy is that it is a season of music. Everywhere we go, we hear the music of Christmas; we hum it subconsciously as we shop or as we drive our daily commutes. We attend or participate as performers in musical concerts – possibly more than at any other time of the year. Entire television specials are devoted to musical celebrations. Some of us go caroling through our neighborhoods, or just curl up with hot cider listening to our favorite albums as we enjoy the lights of a freshly decorated tree…indeed, Christmas is a musical feast.
There could be no better way to praise the birth of our Savior than through song. Latter-day revelation tells us the value the Lord places on musical praise:“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads”. (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12) We have the opportunity to be a little closer to heaven every time we sing praise!
At this joyous season, and always, may we join with the angels in celebration:
Come to Bethlehem and see – Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee – Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!