Luke 2:13-14 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve)
“Gloria in Excelsis Deo”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 24, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace among men of His favor.”
Who has been enjoying listening to Christmas music over the past few weeks? It is certainly enjoyable this time of year. Who likes singing Christmas carols? Do any of you go caroling in your neighborhoods? Well, today / tonight and tomorrow we are singing a lot of your favorites in our worship services as we celebrate the yearly remembrance of the Son of God’s birth among us.
God’s Word, the Bible, is full of songs as well. The Book of Psalms is a book of songs that God’s people sang. The Book of Isaiah has four Servant Songs about the promised Savior. The first two chapters of the Gospel of St. Luke gives us four songs. We find Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-55. We can hear her singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” In Luke 1:68, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist begins to sing the Benedictus, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:68–71 ESV). In Luke 2:29-32 we find the very familiar words of the Nunc Dimittis, the song of Simeon, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32 ESV).
But people are not the only ones who praise God and sing songs. A multitude of God’s heavenly army sang on the first Christmas words that we still sing in the Divine Service, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace among people of God’s favor.”
Why should it be, however, that people find favor with God? In the Fall into sin, humanity became God’s enemy. Humanity rebelled against God. Listen to what God says about this in Romans, chapter 1: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
. . .For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. . . .And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:18–32 ESV).
Do these people sound like someone that you’d send a Christmas card and gift to? I’m pretty sure these people wouldn’t be on my Christmas list. But then you and I must realize that you and I are “these people” because of our sinful condition. By nature, we are unrighteous. We do evil. We gossip and covet, hate and despise. We lie and cheat. You and I worship idols of our own making, whether it is money or possessions or positions or simply ourselves. We’re a huge mess! We are God’s sinful enemies who stand condemned under His just and holy Law.
At the end of a year, people sometimes take stock of the year past. Well, as we think over our lives, we see our sinfulness. God said, “Do this,” and we didn’t. God said, “Don’t do that,” and we did. We failed always to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We did not always love our neighbors as ourselves. At times, we’ve been a huge mess. But as we look back on the mess of our sinful lives, we realize the true joy and blessing of Christmas. God has visited His people. He came into the mess of our sin and brought not war and judgment and condemnation, but peace.
In the birth of the Son of God made flesh, the Lord’s mercy has fallen on the world. And it is a mercy for you. It is peace with God for you. It is the cleaning up of the mess of sin and death for you.
Think about the song of the angels. In the birth of Jesus, God’s glory is manifested on earth as peace between God and humanity. By rights, it should not be this way because humanity deserves nothing but punishment and condemnation for our sins. Yet according to God’s gracious favor—His mercy, His undeserved loving-kindness—humanity received the gift of the Son of God, Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. He came not to punish and to destroy, but to save. That’s what His name, Jesus, means, “The Lord saves.” And the salvation Jesus came to give humanity is a salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. It is salvation that makes peace with God through the very forgiveness of sins.
Where sins are forgiven, there is no longer enmity or hatred between humanity and God. Where sins are forgiven, there is no longer any punishment or condemnation. Where sins are forgiven, there is no longer eternal death but eternal life. Where sins are forgiven, there is peace with God. But this forgiveness of sins, this rescue from death and the devil, this eternal salvation and peace with God did not come from Bethlehem. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace comes not from a baby lying in a manger. It comes from the grown man, Jesus Christ, who is also true God, hanging on a bloody cross.
The incarnation of the Son of God and the birth of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary is for the purpose of our salvation. It is for the purpose of the cross and the resurrection. God the Son took to Himself a true human body and soul so that He might be capable of living, suffering, and dying in the place of humanity in order to win for everyone the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Christ was born of Mary so that He might live a perfect life for us in His flesh and die a perfect sacrificial death for us in His flesh to atone for our sins and the sins of the world. Colossians 1, “For in [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:19–22 ESV).
It is the Son of God and the Son of Mary, Jesus, who gave up His life into death to save you with His precious blood. It is the Son of God and the Son of Mary who then rose from the dead, assuring you of your own victory over sin and death when you will rise again in body and soul from the grave on the Last Day. In Holy Baptism, you have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in body and soul for eternity with Him. You have peace with God through your Lord, Jesus Christ. And so, in the Lord’s Supper, you commune on Christ’s crucified and risen Body and Blood with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. As you dine at His Sacramental table, you dine in the surety of peace with your God and Lord in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come at the Day of the Resurrection.
The forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the peace we have with God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ is truly worthy of our songs of praise. As God the Son was born, the angel host of heaven could not contain their praise and worship of God as they gave Him glory for the joyous good news that to humanity, a Savior is born in Bethlehem. The Son of God made flesh would clean up the huge mess of sin and wash people clean in His blood shed on the cross so that we might be whiter than snow through the forgiveness of sins. It is Jesus who has made us pure and holy to stand before the Lord, at peace with Him. How then can we not sing, “Glory to God in the highest!”? In the Divine Service, God’s forgiven people in Christ join in the song of the angels as we did today / tonight, singing, “Glory to God, we give You thanks and praise; Of heavenly joy and earthly peace we sing. We worship You, to You our hearts we raise, Lord God, almighty Father, heavenly King.”
It is this hymn of praise where we, along with the shepherds, are invited to go and see Jesus. They found Him in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as the angel had promised. We go and see Him in the Scriptures that we hear after we sing the “Gloria in Excelsis.” And that is right where He has promised to be for us—in His Gospel Word, in Baptism, and in His Supper—with forgiveness, life, and salvation, and a peace that passes all understanding.
Today / tonight we sing! We sing the hymns of Christmas! We sing the song of the angels. We give God the Father all glory, honor and praise for our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” Glory to God in the highest! Amen.