************ Sermon on Luke 2:14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2008
"The Angels' Song"
We've been looking at the songs of Christmas that we find in the Bible: the first three Sundays of Advent we looked at the song of Hannah, the song of Zechariah, and the song of Mary; today, we look at the song of the angels; and, this coming Sunday we are looking at the song of Simeon.
Today's song is a lot like the other songs we have been looking at. First, like the other songs, it is a song of praise to God. Second, it is the Word of God. Third, it is a celebration of deliverance and salvation. On the other hand, this song is also different than the other songs. First, unlike the other songs, it is not a solo sung by one person; rather, it is sung by a choir, a great company of the heavenly host. Second, it is not sung by a human; rather, it is sung by angels. Third, it is not a prophecy prompted by the presence of the Spirit.
We can divide the song into two stanzas. The first stanza deals with the glory of God. The second stanza deals with peace on earth.
I The Weight of Glory
A In the first stanza, the angels sing "Glory to God in the highest."
What is the glory of God? What is meant by this phrase? The original meaning of glory has to do with weightiness. The glory of God summarizes the weightiness of all of God's attributes. The Greek word for "glory" includes such thoughts as splendor, brightness, shining, radiance, brilliance, amazing might, power, praise, honor, status, greatness, wonder, glorious being, benevolent supernatural power, and heaven. This is the weight of glory.
But we can say more. The weight of glory includes the superlative – that is, the highest level, the pinnacle, the peak, the summit, the top. Not only is God splendorous, but He is the most splendorous. Not only is God bright, but He is the brightest. Not only does God shine, but He shines the most. Not only is God radiant, but He is the most radiant. Not only does God have amazing might, His is the most amazing might. Not only is God powerful, He is the most powerful. You get the picture. This is the weight of glory.
What is the weight of glory? The weight of glory is the greatness, the grandeur, the majesty, and the excellence of our God.
B "Glory to God in the highest." The angels cannot add to God's glory. We cannot add to God's glory. How can you add on to the weight of glory? You can't, of course. It is not possible to add more power to someone Who is most powerful. It is not possible to add more brilliance to someone Who is most brilliant. It is not possible to add more radiance to someone Who is most radiant.
"Glory to God in the highest." So, what exactly is it that the angels are doing? The angels are publicly acknowledging the weight of God's glory in an act of worship. Likewise, we too are to acknowledge the weight of God's glory – in worship, in prayer, in life and lifestyle, in family and other relationships.
C "Glory to God in the highest." Do you know what Satan tried to do with the weight of glory? He tried to take it from God and for himself. Remember what is said in Isaiah 14 about Satan?
(Is 14:13-15) You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. (14) I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (15) But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.Satan tried to take over God's glory and He was kicked out of heaven.
"Glory to God in the highest." Now, remember what Satan did in the Garden of Eden? He tempted Adam and Eve to do the same thing he did. He tempted Adam and Eve to take from the weight of God's glory. He tempted Adam and Eve to be like God. When Adam and Eve listened, they committed the exact same sin as Satan.
"Glory to God in the highest." How many times aren't we exactly the same as Satan? How many times aren't we like Adam and Eve? How many times don't we try to take from God's glory and make it our own? How many times don't we bring dishonor to His most glorious Name? How many times don't we fail to live to the praise of His glory? Can any of us honestly say that the glory of God consumes us? Does the glory of God define our life, our worship, and our witness?
D "Glory to God in the highest." Notice that phrase "in the highest." Among the Greeks and Romans, Zeus is "the highest" because Zeus is the god on the highest mountain; as such, he is the god and lord of heaven above. Notice, "the highest" is both a title and a place.
Among the Jews, "the highest" is the main name used for God. The one true God, the God of the Bible, is "the highest" – not Zeus! Don't forget, God's is the fullest and greatest weight of glory. Don't forget, too, that the Jews were so terrified of abusing the holy name of God that they used titles like "Lord" and "the highest" in its place. Furthermore, "the highest" also refers to a place – the one true God reigns in heaven above. He is "God in the highest."
II Shalom for the Elect
A There is also a second stanza to the song of the angels: "and on earth peace to men ..."
Did we hear the angels right? Did they really sing about "peace to men" or "peace on earth"? Where is that peace? At the time the angels sang their song, the whole world was on the move and in turmoil. Rome was still an empire bent on conquest. There was no peace for Rome, its armies, or its enemies.
The same thing was true within Israel. Consider how disturbed both Herod and Jerusalem became when the wisemen asked about "the one who has been born king of the Jews" (Mt 2:2-3). Consider how King Herod massacred the baby boys of Bethlehem (Mt 2:16). Consider, too, how the Jewish Zealots resisted and rebelled against Roman domination. No, there was no peace in Israel.
And, what about today – more than 2000 years later? Where is that peace the angels sang about? Think of Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Columbia, Israel and her neighbors, and a dozen other troubled places around the globe – none of them are experiencing peace.
B Yet, the angels sang about peace: "and on earth peace to men ..." The phrase "peace on earth" is heard often during Miss America beauty pageants and is the subject of many Christmas cards. But this is not the kind of peace the angels are singing about. They are singing about the Jewish concept of "Shalom."
What is Shalom? The basic meaning of "Shalom" is wholeness, well-being, restoration, reconciliation with God, and salvation in its fullest sense.
Do you hear, then, what the angels are really singing? The angels are not singing about earthly peace; rather, they are singing about spiritual peace. The angels are singing about peace with God.
C Did you know, most of our Christmas cards wrongly quote the angels' song? They get the first stanza right – "Glory to God in the highest." They totally mess up the second stanza – "peace on earth, goodwill to men." We have all received Christmas cards with these words. We also find this error on our bulletin cover for today – "and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Notice what this error does? It breaks the second stanza into two separate clauses that explain each other and build on each other. Furthermore, this goes back to the old error of earthly peace, of goodwill among men. This error ignores the concept of "Shalom."
What, then, are the angels really singing? Listen to all of the second stanza: "and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Peace was not promised to all men in general, but only to men of God's goodwill, to men of God's favor.
Who are the men of God's favor? Who are the men of God's goodwill? They are the elect. They are the chosen. They are those who believe in Jesus Who died, Jesus Who arose, Jesus Who ascended into heaven, Jesus Who now sits at God's right hand.
III Glory and Shalom Because of a Savior
A "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
What provokes the angels' song? Why do they sing about the weight of God's glory? Why do they sing about "Shalom" for the elect? Listen to verse 11:
(Lk 2:11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
On Christmas Day, Who is born? Not just a little baby in a manger! Oh no, He is much more than that. He is David's promised descendent, He is Savior, He is Christ or Messiah, He is Lord!
B Now, what happens in heaven when this baby is born? Angels sing, "Glory to God in the highest." The angels of heaven praise God, they glorify God, they honor God.
Do you see what the Savior's birth does in heaven? The Savior's birth causes the heavenly host to recognize the weight of God's glory!
C And, what happens on earth when the baby is born? Take a look at the shepherds. They were living out in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flocks at night. They were probably watching over sheep destined for the altar of sacrifice in Jerusalem.
They were frightened when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them (remember, we are talking about the weight of God's glory). But the angel said,
(Lk 2:10-11) "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."Notice, the angel did not say, "a Savior has been born to Mary." No, "a Savior has been born to you." The baby in the manger is their Savior. He was born for them. Like the sacrificial lambs of their flocks, He was born to be their Lamb of God.
So what do they do? They hurried off to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.
Do you see what the Savior's birth does on earth? Shepherds rush to the manger and receive the Shalom of God. We can assume that the humble shepherds are the elect of God. They are the ones who are the recipients of God's favor. Here is a reminder that God's favor is not earned or deserved because of wealth, power, might, education, social class, position, or anything else you care to name. God's favor is simply a gift of grace for humble shepherds.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Is this your song on Christmas Day? Do you recognize the weight of God's glory because the Savior has been born? Do you rush to the manger to receive the Shalom of God because the Savior has been born?
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