131225 Christmas Day

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 December 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 2:8-14
Theme: The Song of the Angels: Gloria In Excelsis

For three consecutive Wednesdays in December we contemplated the Songs of the Advent season, the songs of Mary and Zechariah and Simeon. Three different people, three different voices, three different titles, but all three songs flow from a common source: faith.

Mary's song was a song of faith repeated. When the angel announced that God had chosen her to give birth to the Savior, not only did Mary believe this amazing news. She couldn't keep it to herself. As soon as she reached the home of her relative Elizabeth, Mary burst into a song of praise, a song we call the Magnificat: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46, 47).

Zechariah's song was a song of faith restored. When the angel Gabriel told him that he and his wife would have a son in their old age, Zechariah was skeptical. Because he doubted, Zechariah was not able to speak until after that miracle child had been born. After a year of silence, after a year of meditation and anticipation, Zechariah knew exactly what he wanted to say. His song has come to be known as the Benedictus: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people" (Luke 1:68).

Simeon's song was a song of faith rewarded. The Holy Spirit had promised this righteous and devout man that he would see the Christ child before he died. He waited and watched and watched and waited. And in God's good time, Simeon's patience was rewarded. Taking the baby Jesus into his arms, he sang this lullaby, the song we know as the Nunc Dimittis:

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

It's kind of sad that this concert of Advent anthems has to come to an end, or does it? Even though the season is over, the singing continues. In fact, the Lord himself has composed a very special song for us this morning, a song that was first preformed by an angelic choir, a song that captures the feelings of every believer on the day of our Savior's birth. Call it a Christmas encore. Today God's saints on earth join with God's angels in heaven to sing the song of the angels...

GLORIA IN EXCELSIS

I. The mood
II. The music
III. The message

The shepherds weren't expecting anything out of the ordinary when they went out to the fields. They were probably settling in for the night, a night like many other nights in the Judean countryside: the same cold air, the same hard ground, the same stubborn sheep.

What would it take to break up their normal routine? What would it take to change their mood? Some people today say they need to hear certain songs to get into the Christmas spirit. In this case God used a song to change the mood of the shepherds forever.

This song was no ordinary Christmas carol. This song came with an angelic introduction. "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them" (Luke 2:9). Talk about a change in atmosphere. In an instant, night became day. In an instant, darkness gave way to light. In an instant, an uneventful evening turned into an unbelievable experience.

Yesterday I looked through the stack of Christmas cards my family received this year to see what various artists use to create their Christmas scenes. Even though every card was different, there were some repeating themes: a country church, a snow covered hillside, an intimate manger scene.

Many Christmas cards try to create a mood that is quiet and peaceful and serene, but that doesn't match up very well with what the shepherds actually saw. The angel's unannounced appearance to the shepherds was anything but quiet. The angel's glorious appearance was anything but peaceful. And the sudden appearance of an angel chorus was anything but serene. The mood of the first Christmas Eve can best be described as glory-filled. And to match the mood, the Lord provided some glorious music.

Think of some of the most famous choirs in the world: the Vienna Boys' Choir, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and closer to home, the St. Olaf College choir. These singing groups fill concert halls night after night, but none of them can hold a candle to God's angel chorus because this heavenly host was literally out of this world.

When the angels sang for the shepherds on Christmas Eve, it was not the climax of a professionally produced Christmas special. There were no pyrotechnics or special effects involved. The choir was not accompanied by an ensemble of brass and strings and percussion.

Voices, heavenly voices, angelic voices filled the shepherds' ears. As wonderful as the music was, as impressive as the angel-filled sky was, as overloaded as their senses were, the best was yet to come. To go along with a glorious mood and glorious music, the angels proclaimed a glorious message:

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests'" (Luke 2:13,14).

Glory was a familiar concept to God's people. In the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord appeared to Moses and the Israelites in the form of a cloud. Five hundred years later King David wrote: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1).

But for most people (and this included the shepherds), glory is an abstract concept. It is something to read about and remember from the days of the Exodus. It is something to be inferred from the wonders of God's creation. Glory is something every believer anticipates in heaven, but it is not something to be experienced on earth...until now.

With absolutely no warning, the shepherds found themselves surrounded by the glory of God. Maybe that explains why their initial reaction was fear. The holiness all around them exposed the unholiness inside of them. And they were terrified.

But God never intended this revelation to strike fear in the hearts of the shepherds. God's glory was accompanied by glorious news. The Lord sent his holy angel to announce the arrival of a holy child: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10,11).

A Savior has been born to you. In that simple statement, thousands of years of promises and prophecies were fulfilled. A Savior has been born to you. In that single birth, thousands of years of watching and waiting were rewarded. A Savior has been born to you. That is the good news. That good news is for all people. That is why we are here today. That is why celebrate today. We sing "Glory to God in the highest" because God's Son has brought peace to earth.

But it wasn't easy. The angels sang: "On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests," but Jesus was not able to enjoy the peace he gave to others. While he was still a baby, King Herod tried to kill him. Later people from his hometown wanted to stone him. Spiritual leaders hated him. Followers deserted him. And one of his own conspired to kill him.

Jesus' thirty three years on this earth were filled with headaches and heartaches, but everything that happened to him was part of God's plan of salvation. Jesus was born to die. He was born to die for the sins of the world. He was born to die for you. Jesus wrapped himself in human flesh and came into this world two thousand years ago to give you the greatest gift of all, peace.

Even though bombs and bullets are flying in other parts of the world, you have peace. Even though your faith in Jesus may be puzzling to some and offensive to others, you have peace. Even though you don't always share the zeal of the shepherds to spread the good news, you still have peace. Even though the thought of standing in the presence of a holy God might make your sinful body tremble with fear, you still have peace. Peace with God is your permanent possession because Jesus was born and lived and died and rose again for you.

'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests'" (Luke 2:13,14). That message is music to our ears, but we have to admit that some of the impact, some of the awe, some of the beauty gets lost in the translation. Human words just can't compare with the angels' heavenly song.

All we can do is imagine. So let's do that today. Close your eyes and imagine that you are there. Imagine that you are a shepherd on that lonely hillside outside of Bethlehem. Imagine legions of angels lighting up the night sky. Imagine that your ears are the first to hear the good news of great joy: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. Amen.

 

 

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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