Pastor Terry Tatum
This Advent we are looking at the Songs of Christmas as shared in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. Four different sections in Luke are the inspiration for four classic Christmas songs that we have all heard many times. The songs are traditionally known by their latin names, but they also can be referred to as Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, The Angels’ Song, and Simeon’s Song.
Near Easter each year I often get the chance to tell the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. From Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the last Supper, to the crucifixion, His death, and resurrection … I love that story. When I tell that story, I always start by saying “I want to tell you the greatest story ever told,” and I believe it is, but those events during Holy Week never would have taken place without our story today. Today we are looking at a glorious song that finds its origins in Luke Chapter 2, the story of the birth of Jesus:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:1-5 NIV)
Have you ever wondered how Jesus was from Nazareth and Bethlehem? Scripture is clear that Jesus was a Nazarene, but he was born in Bethlehem. His “hometown” was Nazareth, but he was born in Bethlehem. It was a three-day trip for Mary and Joseph and even though scripture gives an extraordinary place to the mother of our Lord Jesus, she was still a pregnant woman in her ninth month traveling greater than three days and I’m guessing that wasn’t the most pleasant trip. At worst she was walking and best she was riding a donkey, but it was still a three-day journey right before she gave birth. It had to have been tough. Back to Scripture:
While they were there (in Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2: 6-7 NIV)
A three-day journey followed by the birth of the savior of the world and what always breaks my heart is that there was no room for them in the inn. Scripture tells us that “she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” The King of kings was placed where the animals would eat. The greatest person to ever be born, the Savior of the World, the Creator of the Universe’s one and only son was born in the most humble and lowly circumstances most of us could ever imagine. The story continues…
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 8-12 NIV).
Logic would tell us that God would reveal the birth of Christ to important or significant people first. Shepherds were manual laborers, working in the fields with the sheep all day long, every day. They were not well educated or influential or the least bit powerful. But, as I’ve said many times, God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things, which is exactly what he did here. And that leads us to our sermon/song for today…
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 NIV)
The Angels song, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,”means Glory to God in the highest. Just a two-line chorus that says so much. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Today we are going to look at those two simple yet powerful lines in scripture and what they reveal to us about the good news of Christmas.
You may have grown up knowing the Christmas story. We all hear it every year, but what is so important about the birth of a child 2,000 years ago? A savior was born into a world filled with sin. A world where people had their own way of dealing with God, many even had multiple gods. Our Savior was born into a world where many people didn’t think that his birth was that special.
C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” We live in a world much like 1st century Israel where religion is seen as an okay thing, but not necessarily life changing. But the angels remind us how special that night was.
The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest.” God knew our greatest need, back then, and now. We need to be redeemed (made right with God). God sent us a savior, someone to save us from sin and death and the angels responded to that by surrounding the lowest of people and singing “Glory to God in the highest.”
Praises for Jesus and what he has done for us need to be shouted (more than just once a year).
This line in the angels’ song reminds me that it’s not about us, or to quote Pastor Rick Warren, “it’s not about you.” As much as we have been taught to celebrate what we have done, Christmas just isn’t about that. Sharing gifts and spending time together is all great, but Christmas just isn’t about that.
Instead of getting caught up in all the commercial chaos this year, realize that the only gift you or anyone will ever need was born in a manger, surrounded by animals, and proclaimed by angels to shepherds out in the field. YOU will never need anything (for Christmas or anytime) other than Christ. Sing it loud with me this Christmas season, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the highest.
The angels also sang “and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” How many of you can honestly say you feel peace most of the time? It’s commonplace to not feel the peace of God, as individuals and also as a world. With over 5,000 years of recorded history there have only been 292 years without war (peace).
Anyone under 20 years of age has never lived a day in their lives without the U.S. being at war (9/11/01). Lacking peace or knowledge of what living in peace is like is the norm for our world.
Isn’t it ironic then that the Prince of Peace was born in a place where conflict had been the norm for centuries? When I think of Bethlehem, peace is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind.
It’s important to note that the angels didn’t say anything to the shepherds about “peace on earth.” They said “on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests”. That begs an all-important question: Upon whom does God’s favor rest? Ephesians 1:5 says, “God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
We receive God’s favor when we receive His Son, Jesus – who is Christ the Lord. Do you see the connection with Jesus’ birth? To receive the good news of salvation found in Jesus is to receive peace.
So, what exactly is peace? It’s “wholeness” or “harmony” (cf. Hebrew, shalom). It is more than the absence of war or conflict. So Jesus, as the “Prince of Peace,” is the One who makes us whole and puts our lives in balance. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that reads, “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.” Jesus brings peace and harmony to our lives (i.e. a bit of heaven on earth).
Let me share three types of peace enjoyed by those on whom God’s favor rests.
Peace with God
This is where real peace begins because sin separates us from the Lord. But Jesus is the One who makes things right between ourselves and God.
“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility that sin causes. Through faith in Him/His saving work, we can experience peace with God.
Peace with others
Because we have been reconciled with God, the New Testament writers encourage believers to be reconciled with one another. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18)
Did he just say “everyone?” Yes, EVERYONE!!!!!
“With God all things are possible.” Just do your part … that’s all you can do. I am by no means telling you this is easy, just remember what Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9)
Peace with ourselves
I’m willing to bet that everyone reading this longs for peace. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:17, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.” The peace that Paul is talking about is a calm assurance that all is well – even in the midst of trials and turmoil.
It’s hard to explain (“surpasses all human understanding”) but you know it when you have it. The key is receiving it as a gift from the Lord of peace.
Our story today ends this way: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the
shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,which the Lord has told us about.” So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:15–20 NIV).
Now that’s a great story, isn’t it?