Throughout Advent, we did not sing the “Glory to God in the Highest” at the start of the Church service. But today we join with the angels we have heard on high in sweetly singing Heaven’s joy.
The congregation that night was pretty pitiful – just a few rough and smelly shepherds. If they had been struggling to stay awake, that was soon not a problem. Dangers to the sheep lurked in the darkness around them. But in an instant, Heaven’s light brightly shone down on them and they no longer worried about their sheep. They were terrified of losing their own necks.
That is repeatedly the response of fallen man when confronted by Divine holiness. The angel who confronted them came from the presence of the Holy God, and so he shared in that holiness. The shepherds wanted to get away – but there was no escape. And you should remember that they had no reason to escape as the angel speaks to them.
“Fear not! For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angel had not come to frighten them, no matter how scared poor sinners get around that which is holy and godly. The angel had not come to destroy them, but to bring them joy, to announce that God was giving them the One who would rescue them from destruction.
Fear not! For the Lord comes now to you as a little child, a weak and helpless baby. Who could be afraid of such a little one? God comes down to earth to reveal to the lost children the deepest truth of all – that God has never been against us, that He has always loved us, that He has desired nothing but salvation and eternal life. And so God dares to come in poverty and helplessness, behind enemy lines, to lead His enemies from fear to friendship, from terror to peace.
As the poor shepherds are trying to get over their shock and wrap their heads around it all, God cranks it up a notch. Suddenly that angel is no longer by himself – but there are myriads, hundreds of thousands, shining and singing the “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The glory of God here is not so much about His power but in His strong love. Love so great that He risks rejection as He becomes man to raise us to be children of God. The glory of God that Adam lost in Eden, and so mankind began our foolish and senseless running away from the Giver of all good, our only Hope and Life – that glory is restored and shown in Bethlehem. For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.
And then the angel adds his prayer for peace on earth. And that peace has something to say about the weapons nations use to blow up and shoot down each other, inspiring fear and terror. But also the horrifying weapons you and I know how to use on each other – the cutting word, the biting look, the poisonous anger. The angels pray that all of it is laid aside and peace would really be upon the earth. That we would come to love each other with the same sort of love that lives and reigns in Heaven, where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in love for each other – and for the whole creation! A peace the holy angels live in, a peace the evil angels rejected to their own destruction.
And there is more to it, because this very Christ Child does not simply bring peace. He is our peace between God and man, for in Him the Divine and Human is one, united for all eternity. A Christian poet (Paul Gerhardt) wrote it well –
“Shall we still dread God’s displeasure
Who to save Freely gave
His most precious treasure:
To redeem us He has given
His own Son From the throne
Of His might in Heaven.”
This Christ Child does not change how God feels toward you, rather He shows how God feels towards you. He lets you know that God has loved you with a love that never stops. Certainly if you insist on meeting God apart from the gift of the Christ of Bethlehem and the Cross – well then you will face total destruction. But that is not what God really wants for a single soul, for He gives this Child for all. The angel sang that this is “Good news of great joy for ALL people,” and he meant ALL people!
Good will toward men is what God shows us in this Babe of Bethlehem – to us bunch of rebels who go on in our disobedient sins as if there was no judgment against our guilt, as if no answer had to be given to God for every one of our evil words, deeds, or thoughts. To us comes this Gift from the Father’s love – Jesus the Savior! Sent to forgive our sins, sent to free us from our hell-bent wanderings, sent to bring us home to the Father.
And that is what causes the angels’ great joy that Christmas night. They are absolutely giddy because God’s lost children are beginning to be rescued and restored to the family home. And they honestly are thrilled that they get the privilege of serving God’s children – of protecting and shepherding us through this life until we share with them eternally in glorifying God as we live forever with them in Heavenly peace, enjoying the good will and love of God. Amen.