As Luke tells the Christmas story, in the hills surrounding Bethlehem, shepherds were awakened to wondrous angelic news of a Savior born to them. He was their Messiah and Lord. And the sign of this great arrangement to the shepherds’ eternal advantage was that they would find their Savior in the most humble of circumstances–swaddled in cloths and lying in a Bethlehem manger.
Luke continues that, if the heavenly announcement was not enough of a shock to them, the next thing the shepherds saw and heard was a great company of the heavenly host raising a chorus of praise: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)
God’s Good News through the Chaos
The Son of God, who was Savior and Lord was leaving his home to come to earth. And at the same time, the whole world was having to leave home to go to their places of origin to be counted. Augustus Caesar was responsible for the chaos.
But it wasn’t beyond God’s marvelous arrangement and there was no surprise. All this only served to get a young peasant couple named Joseph and Mary relocated from Nazareth–a four day journey of about 70 miles–to Bethlehem, in order that Mary could deliver God’s own Son in accordance with the scriptures.
Glory to God in the Highest
When I was young, I used to think that when the angels sang, "glory to God in the highest," the words "in the highest" meant at the top of their heavenly voices. While I’m sure that the volume was impressive, the song was not about volume but location.
"Glory to God in the highest heavens." they sang. It was not just praise anywhere; it was praise to God in the very place where he dwelt and from where His beloved Son had just left.
That strikes me as somehow very important. When a beloved son leaves home to strike out on his own, there’s usually a good measure of parental hopefulness, but not a little melancholy and a whole lot of missing that occurs.
Not so in heaven.
Luke says that heaven was filled with joyful praise because of what the Son of God had left to do. He was on a mission from His heavenly Father. God was reaching down to earth in the most personal, intimate and understandable way he could. He didn’t have to, but He did nonetheless out of compassion, generosity and love for us all.
…and on Earth Peace to Men on Whom His Favor Rests
In the coming of Jesus, God himself was making the arrangements to establish peace between Himself and people who were, by and large, hostile toward him. It was going to be incredibly costly. But that cost was undertaken.
At Christmas time many folks think about "peace on earth" in terms of ‘giving it the old college try’ yet again. They hope to work up pleasant feelings and lift the level of civility just a little because of the season. In fact, peace on earth has nothing to do with us manufacturing warm and generous feelings so that we can feel a bit more peaceful in ourselves. And it doesn’t really work anyway.
What Luke’s talking about is the earthly consequence where God’s Son is received and embraced for who He is. The angel praise is all about God’s disposition and not ours. Jesus embodies God’s action in making peace. Jesus represents God’s forceful intention to offer salvation against what people deserve and sometimes event want.
Christmas is all about God.
The Embodiment of the Holy Passion of Deity
There’s no uncertainty in the angels’ song, no doubt, no question but that Jesus’ coming represents God’s best for you and me. When Jesus arrived, he was the embodiment of the holy passion of deity and the full intensity of pure love.
Jesus embodied the favor of God’s peace to men. There is no other peace like it on earth … because it didn’t come from here. And heaven continues to ring with praise for that sending. Give God the glory; embrace His Savior.
Have a blessed Christmas!