When the heavens were opened to the shepherds, they first saw an angel of the Lord–we would suppose Gabriel–saying: “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” (Luke 2:10-11). Then “suddenly,” according to the King James account, “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” (Luke 2:13-14).

Joseph Mary Bethlehem MormonIn the telling of the Christmas story, there is an occasional objection to the idea that Jesus Christ’s birth was heralded to the shepherds by a heavenly choir. This objection is on the grounds that the text of the Bible does not say their message was sung. In response, I first observe that there are responsible Bible translations that report the heavenly host “singing the praises of God”; second, it would be contrary to the order of worship in heaven for a host to do other than sing, as a host of scriptural texts attest; and third, we have record of the appearance of other heavenly choirs on other occasions rejoicing. Musical ability ranks among the talents with which one might be born and which one can take with him into the world to come. Elder McConkie frequently preached the doctrine that those with great musical talents are laboring on the other side of the veil to prepare the music and the choir that will attend the return of Jesus Christ.

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As the choir sang to the humble shepherds of Judea, perhaps they had engagements the world over to herald the Savior’s birth among the scattered remnants of Israel. “Yea, and the voice of the Lord, by the mouth of the angels, doth declare it unto all nations,” Alma wrote, “yea, doth declare it, that they might have glad tidings of great joy; yea, and he doth sound these glad tidings among all his people, yea, even to them that are scattered abroad unto the face of the earth; wherefore they have come unto us” (Alma 13:22).

The Christmas hymn, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” is an announcement of the very hour of the appearance of the heavenly choir to the shepherds. This hymn has as its roots a text from the wisdom of Solomon, a part of the Old Testament Apocrypha. The passage states that the “night in its swift course was now half gone” and refers contextually to the destruction of the firstborn of the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus. This, however, has not prevented Christian writers from seeing it as a reference to the time of Jesus Christ’s birth (see Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15).

Sperry Symposium Classics, Joseph Fielding McConkie, 2006, Brigham Young University & Deseret Book, 113-114.

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