Reader: “Glory to God in highest heaven,”
Response: “and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Jewish people had been waiting some 400 plus years since the days of Malachi for some word from God. Nothing century after century. . . crickets. In truth, they had been waiting 2,000 years since the days of Abraham for the coming of the Messiah and the human race had been waiting since the days of Adam and Eve. Is there a monumental announcement? “World wake up! God is coming to Israel!” No, nothing like that. After all, to the Jewish mind, God was Spirit not made of human flesh. So, who were the first people to hear of the birth of a human Savior? They were some people at the very bottom of the social class, a few shepherds. God tipped his hand very early to let us know he was not interested in the high and mighty, the powerful figures of society but the common, broken, very ordinary people with open hearts, you and me. God did send some angels to announce the birth, but just to a few lonely sheep herders.
What is there to say about the birth of Jesus that hasn’t been said? Such a familiar story. It is easy to read it; takes only a few minutes. Luke states things so simply and straightforwardly that we can be lulled into responding to it as another nice Bible story failing to realize that the birth of this baby boy on this night changed the course of all of creation! And that’s an understatement.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the village of Bethlehem had about 300 people. There were many flocks of sheep all around this little town as the shepherds were the primary supplier of lambs for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem some five to six miles due north. Hearing the baaing of sheep was commonplace. There were no paved roads, only dusty paths traversing gently rolling hills. So on this once-in-an-eternity-night the sheep herders were with their flocks on a still, peaceful evening when out of nowhere an angel suddenly appeared among them. In an instant, they were given sight into a previously invisible world surrounding them. Not surprisingly, it scared them to death. But the angel delivered good news! The message was affirmed as hundreds of angels likewise appeared instantaneously, thousands of them singing praise to God and in a language the overwhelmed shepherds could understand. Their words left no doubt as to the significance of the announcement of good news. “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” Wish I could have seen and heard that!
God received glory both in heaven and on earth as a result of the birth of Jesus. Why? Because after centuries of waiting in both places, in God’s perfect timing, now was the moment he chose to move forward with his masterful plan of redemption for all of his creation. The disaster in the Garden of Eden was being undone. His only begotten Son would enter planet earth as an infant making restoration possible. The prophets had said the Messiah would come and he did! God kept his word. True “peace on earth” was possible. Yet it doesn’t appear that this peace has ever arrived on earth.
But what was the nature of this peace? This was the kind of peace which restored a person’s well-being with God, a reconciliation with God. A resting, lasting, eternal peace was available to those who would receive God’s grace. It was and is a shalom, a wholeness of relationship and closeness to God that Adam and Eve had before the Fall. This glorious Nativity made all of this possible today. Christmas is far, far, far more than a simple celebration of the birth of a baby. Don’t ever trivialize its significance. Peace has arrived to all those who have put their trust in the babe of Bethlehem.
Music: “The Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” John Rutter King’s College Choir
“Glory to God” from Messiah St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
“Glory to God” Ron Nelson old and fuzzy video, Cantare Con Vivo, BEAUTIFUL, EXUBERANT MUSIC!!
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen. ―Book of Common Prayer