Waiting on the Angels

Days 2 through 12 of Christmas: the great coda. It must have been that way in Bethlehem, too.  Between the celestial choir’s terrifying appearance to the shepherds and the arrival of the magi, there must have been a slightly dazed and vaguely expectant lull. The Lord of Glory descended into creation almost silently, leaving barely a ripple; and yet maybe the very fabric of the universe lay stunned for days upon end, breathless in the wake of His coming. The census would have rolled on, replete with all the usual government red tape. Did Mary and Joseph and the baby eventually find better accommodations? Surely there was a long pause in which the story seemed to hang suspended, an indrawn breath before the next explosive episode (featuring exotic astronomer-sages, a petty local king, the slaughter of innocents and a hasty flight to Egypt). 

We feel it too, during the holidays – especially if we have observed the first days of Christmas with panache. And we also feel it on a larger scale, as though we are huddled around our King’s cradle, full of a joy echoed down a hundred generations, but wondering what exactly it is we do now. We suffer the paradox of restless contentment. Surely, now that He is come, there is something important we should be doing? The wise men are drawing near; Herod is drawing near; there are wars and rumors of war; there is chatter on the internet about the End Times. God is With Us – so where are the dramatic marching orders?

And yet, here we are, in the lull- between. This quiet patience of something possessed and yet still waiting its climax practically defines the present life of the church. We feast and sing and mark the days, but at the same time our lives are caught in that great coda between His coming and His coming again. The feeling is difficult to describe, for it is a tension without fear, an aching curiosity founded on certitude. It is perhaps nowhere so charmingly portrayed in literature as by CS Lewis, in his under-appreciated novel That Hideous Strength.  A dystopian tale like no other, the book portrays the strange placidity of the church in the midst of cosmic warfare. 

Here’s how the stage is set (and if you relish the story as I do, you won’t mind the brief re-telling): an elite clique of technocrats has conspired to subjugate all of humanity in a trans-humanist totalitarianism, nurtured by ideologue pseudo-intellectuals and a secret police force, all under the secret tutelage of Satanic power. Against the backdrop of this completely implausible, far-fetched scenario – insert your own coughing and choking noises here – Lewis juxtaposes his heroes: Dr. Ransom and a ragtag band of refugees from the insanity. This “Company”  mysteriously ends up gathered under one roof, providentially nudged and chivvied into an adoptive family. As the narrative conflict thunders toward a cataclysmic invasion of earth by the Powers of Heaven (brace yourselves), the reader is primed to expect jaw-dropping heroics or epic deeds. The Company is gathered to literally wait upon the angels. They are the few, the chosen, those who understand the tremendous drama unfolding around them. 

So what do they do?

They keep house. They take naps. They eat and drink. They love one another. They talk – sometimes in the tongues of angels, more often not. There is some debate. There is some bickering. There is good natured teasing. There is tea. There is a lot of waiting. Lots and lots of waiting, actually.  It wears on their nerves, just as it would wear on ours. But – and here is the wisdom Lewis has to offer – these people know what they are doing. It is the forces of darkness that scheme and bustle; the villains of this piece are incessantly churning out legislation, propaganda, meeting agendas, orchestrated riots, news releases, recruitment campaigns, and the occasional demonically possessed severed head (oops – spoiler alert). On the other hand, the “Company”  trusts its Head – not the severed kind – to know what He is doing. And when the grand finale does finally unfold, it is through God’s power and not through the efforts of men that all is made well and good again. 

So, during these long days of Christmas – or during the long days of our life, while we wait upon the angels, while we wait for the wise men to arrive, while we wait for Herod to make his next move – let us keep in mind the example of Dr. Ransom’s humble company. The next episode is on the horizon, inevitable. Who doubts it? But in the meantime, whether measured in days or decades, we have been graced with a coda in which to gather round the cradle of the King; He has and He will do all that need be done. In the meantime, we can keep His house. And nap. And eat and drink. And talk… or talk too much, as the case may be. And we can love one another gently and steadfastly, as He has loved us. In that patience, in that quietude, there is enough for all of us to do.