Luke 2:13-14 (The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve—Series C)
“Glory to God; Peace on Earth”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 24, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text from the Christmas Gospel recorded in Luke 2, the song of the angels:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
We know that the Gospel writer St. Luke is called by Paul the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). But in addition to being versed in medicine, I am inclined to believe that Luke also enjoyed music. That would certainly make sense as the Holy Spirit God-breathed the Gospel, inspiring Luke to record in the first two chapters four songs! The first is the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the song of Mary which she sang when she visited her cousin Elizabeth before the birth of John. We spoke of Mary’s song this past Sunday . . .
The second song recorded by St. Luke is the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), the song of Zechariah, John’s father, sung at his son’s birth . . .
The fourth song in the early chapters of Luke should be very family to you, as we sing it following the reception of the Lord’s Supper. It is the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32), the song of Simeon . . .
So what must the third song be that Luke recorded for us? Of course! It is the song of the angels first sung on the night the Savior’s birth, the Gloria in Excelsis!
It is this Gloria that we sing throughout the Church Year, except in the two penitential seasons, Advent which we have just finished, and Lent. The song of the angels was first included in the Church’s liturgy around A.D. 530. The people of God have been singing this song for a really long time.
But why? Why has this short, little song been such an important part of the Lord’s Church? Martin Luther remarked that the Gloria in Excelsis “did not grow, nor was it made on earth, but it came down from heaven.” And he’s right. This song was sung by a multitude of the heavenly army giving glory to God because of what had just taken place. God had come down from heaven in order to save the world from sin and death.
When you think of God coming down from heaven you don’t typically think of quiet and calm. We may think of glorious brightness as when God appeared to Moses and the Lord hid him in the cleft of the rock (Ex. 33:22). We might think of the fire and smoke and rumblings as when God came down to meet with His people on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:18). Perhaps we think of trumpet blasts and the shout of the archangel as we are told will happen when the Lord comes at the end of time (1 Thess. 4:16). But when God came down from heaven to save the world, you couldn’t see the glory. It was hidden, wrapped up in human flesh, wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
That’s how God came to save the world from sin and death. Humbly, quietly. There was no fanfare. There was no pomp and circumstance, no parade of priests and Levites and kings to welcome God. He “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” All is calm. All is bright on a very, very silent night.
With one notable exception. A multitude of the heavenly army of angels came to shepherds “abiding in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night” with the first song of Christmas! And as it is with all truly good hymns, it has a Gospel message. This message tells us the result of God the Son taking on human flesh and being born in the world.
At the birth of Jesus, God-made-flesh, there is glory in the highest. How could there not be glory given to God for this gift of salvation, the gift of His very self in the person of God the Son? Yes, God’s glory comes wearing flesh and blood. It’s hidden from human eyes blinded by sin, corrupted by selfishness. The only way the world can see the glory of God in Jesus Christ is because God in Christ reveals it to us. As St. John writes in the prologue of his Gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)
Jesus showed us the glory of God in His preaching of repentance and the good news of the kingdom that, in His person and work, the kingdom of God has come near. Emmanuel—God with us to save! Jesus showed us His glory also in healing the sick, cleansing the demon-oppressed, raising the dead, feeding the multitudes, walking on the sea, calming the waters. But not all saw these things. And not all who saw believed. “He’s just that teacher from Nazareth in Galilee; Joseph, the carpenter’s son.” Doubtful even if they knew of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the city of David, if it would have made any difference. Gods don’t come to earth as babies in mangers. They don’t live with poor folks in Nazareth. They don’t not have a temple or a palace to call their home. That’s just not the style of God.
So seeing doesn’t always mean believing. It takes revealing. It takes God pulling back the veil and showing us the truth of what has taken place; that which is hidden is made known. “Glory to God in the highest” means that there is peace on earth between God and humanity. Who would have known without God’s Word of revelation to the shepherds? “Want to see God? Go to Bethlehem; look up the manger, and see! There in flesh is God, the Savior! Want to see God? Go then to Calvary; look upon the cross and see Him! There in flesh, bleeding and dying for you is God the Savior, Jesus Christ. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
God the Father was pleased to give up His Son to humanity. He was pleased to punish Him for your sins and for mine. God was pleased to forsake His one-of-a-kind Son as He suffered and died on the cross so that your heavenly Father would never turn His back on you, the ones for whom Jesus died. Peace on earth upon those favored by God means forgiveness of sins and eternal life won for you by Jesus, the Son of God. Peace on earth upon those favored by God is the peace of sins forgiven which is for ALL people. And that’s why we, the Church, continue to sing the song of the angels.
There are many, many people in the world, in our nation, state, and community right here, who do not have peace with God because they have rejected the Savior, or because they do not yet know the Savior. Yes, there are people who don’t know about Christmas—about the birth of Jesus, about His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. They don’t know that because of Jesus, God’s favor does rest upon them and that they have His love and mercy and blessing.
So we sing the message of the angels and announce to those we can the good news of great joy that is for all the people. Yes, the Church of God, the believers in Jesus Christ who on this Eve of Christmas gather to worship and give glory to the only true God and Savior, wants the world to know Jesus Christ. We want those who are atheists to hear the Gospel. We want the agnostics, those who aren’t sure about God, to hear the Good News. We want the message of Jesus Christ—who wasborn for the world, who died for the sins of the world, who rose again for the life of the world—to be told to Muslims and Hindus, Jews and Buddhists, Sikhs and Baha’is, Spiritualists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons. The message of Christ is for them because God wants them to be saved by the truth of His mercy and love so that, trusting in Jesus as their Savior, they will add their voices to the angelic song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
After all, “that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” That’s what Christmas is all about, people of God in Christ. It’s God’s gift of His own Son, veiled in flesh, in order to save you from sin and hell through His sacrificial death on a cross and resurrection from the grave. Give God the glory by sharing the Good News with others. Their eternal lives depend on it. Give them the Christmas gift of peace with God in the forgiveness of sins which is theirs by faith in Jesus. Amen.