Text: Luke 2:1-20
Gospel for Christmas Day
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before the creation of the Christmas carol, the celebrations of Christmas had become so depraved and rowdy that the actual observance of the Christmas season was once forbidden by the English Parliament. The meaning of Christmas had become lost in a maelstrom of reveling, drunkenness, rioting, and depravity. Decent people found it necessary to stay indoors for safety. The situation became so shameful that in 1644 Parliament passed strict laws making it illegal to commemorate the season in any way whatsoever! How empty and devoid of meaning is a Christless Christmas!
Today, not much has changed. Christmas is a depressing time for most people. An article written by a director of the California Department of Mental Health warns: “The Christmas season is marked by greater emotional stress and more acts of violence than any other time of the year.” For many Christmas is an excuse to get drunk, have a party, get something, give a little, leave work, get out of school, spend money, overeat, and all kinds of other excesses. But, for the church, Christmas is an excuse for us to exalt Jesus Christ in the face of a world that has forgotten the one who is the reason for the season.
The song of the Angels on that first Christmas Eve show us the true nature of Christmas. Gloria in Excelsis Deo. It has been sung as a chief song in Holy Communion for a millennium and a half. The stage is set when the Glory of the Lord appears. The “glory of the Lord” is God’s visible presence in creation and it is associated with awesome events in Israel’s past: the Exodus from Egypt and the inauguration of Solomon’s Temple. The glory of the Lord appears here and it does not appear in the temple nearby in Jerusalem. Nor does it shine around the manger and the newborn child. Instead, it appears in an open field to lowly shepherds faithfully keeping watch over their sheep. Shepherds were among the most poor and despised people in Palestine. Why should God choose shepherds to be the first to hear the good news instead of some more important group of people? Because the gospel is for all people, and especially for the least, the lost, and lowly.
We can imagine the fear which suddenly gripped the hearts of these shepherds. Without warning they were surrounded by the brightness of God’s glory at the appearance of an angel. The angel therefore quickly reassured them. “Be not afraid,” the angel declared. He had good news, he had Gospel, to bring them. The shepherds’ great fear will be overcome by great joy, and that joy will extend to all people.
The shepherds are summoned in from the fields. They have been made privy to the good news of the birth an heir to the empty throne of David. The shepherds were told who this child was. This child is the saviour, the Messiah, the Lord. God himself in human flesh. Yet the shepherds should not look for this miracle in the king’s palace. They would find a baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem. A lowly king born for the lowliest of mankind. That was the sign given by the angel. The manger isn’t important in itself. It’s a signpost, a pointing finger, to the identity of the baby boy who’s lying in it.
The mighty song of the angels tells us three things: it first of all gives all glory to the God of heaven; secondly, it announces that the God of heaven has established peace between himself and sinful mankind; finally, it declares that this is all by God’s favour, his good will which has been freely given to mankind in Christ.
The first part of the song is the glory to God. To give God the glory is to give him the credit which he is due. This is also how we should begin. God is the one who does all, gives all, and possess all things. No one can really claim anything as their own or claim any merit or recognition for himself. In all things the praise and glory must be given to God. The glory belongs to no one but to God alone, and he does not share his glory with anyone because he alone is God.
Adam refused to give God the glory, but stole it for himself, so that all of us with him have come into disgrace. The evil that is so deeply rooted in all of us is our own vanity. We’re pleased with ourselves. We don’t want to be nothing, we want to make something of ourselves. And it is that spirit of vanity that is the cause of all distress, strife and war upon earth.
The second part of the song is the peace on earth. The peace that is here announced is not a heavenly wish, but a proclamation of a heavenly truth. It is not, that is, angels desiring that there should be peace on earth, but angels bellowing out a grand truth, than which none could be greater: there is peace on earth. This is not the peace where we lay down our weapons. This is not a peace which the United Nations can give. This is not peace between men, but peace with God. Because we have refused to acknowledge God and give him the glory, we stand at war with him. But, the angels here announce that God has sent his own Son to assume human flesh and blood and to make lasting peace between God and men.
The third pard of the song is God’s good will. God has demonstrated his good will, his good pleasure, his grace. The heavenly good will here proclaimed is not, could not be intended for only one small section or part of mankind. Not it is for everyone. God has done the unthinkable. Instead of the anger and just condemnation that we deserve, he has given us what we do not deserve. God’s favour rests upon humanity because God became a man. This means that because of the child born to the Virgin Mary, all united to him by faith are now in God’s good graces. This child will grow up to be a man who always gives God the glory. He became flesh and blood so that by his death on the cross, he could make peace with God. His Son’s birth is the supreme evidence for this good pleasure. There is peace for the humanity because God’s goodwill is now given to all men. This divine Babe is the whole world’s Savior. He will bring peace between God and people. He will heal your estrangement with God, which was caused by your own evil. God has shown you, just how much he loves you by giving you a saviour to raise you up out of the muck and mire of your own sin, and give you the life of heaven.
The angel’s announcement had its desired effect. Though the angel does not order them to go, they make haste (see 1:39) to find the babe.The shepherds wasted no time. They didn’t question or argue among themselves. They did not go to see this so that they might believe it, not they went to see it because they did believe it. They accepted the message as true, a message from the Lord. Their words show their extreme excitement, their intense desire to see at once what the Lord has proclaimed. Their actions followed their words. The angel’s words turned out to be true to the last detail. And so the shepherds became missionaries. They “spread the word” so that people marvelled concerning their conversations
Christmas is more than tinsel and toys, trees and teas, gifts and greetings. It’s not merely a word of goodwill lightly spoken but soon forgotten in the raucous cries of conflict. Christmas is a message of peace on earth among men, because God has established peace with us by sending his own son into the flesh. It is Immanuel, God with us. It is God bending low to lift men up out of the sin and mire of a world which has forgotten God and His will for lost men. It is God in a cradle, the Eternal Creator in a tender baby’s flesh and form.
But Christmas does not stop in Bethlehem. It reaches beyond to Calvary, to the empty tomb, and to the throne where the Savior sits, waiting for His enemies to become his footstool. It is the good news of salvation to all who will receive it. As the shepherds came to the manger, saw the Christ child, and went forth to tell the glad tidings, so should the faithful today bow before Him in worship, praise, and adoration. The Saviour comes even this day, still meek and lowly, this time in, with, and under the bread and wine. On this Christmas, this Christ-Mass, let us receive our saviour’s body and blood along with the forgiveness it brings, and then go forth to declare this gospel to a lost world. That is what Christmas is all about!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.