The Song of the Angels

December 26, 2010 / No. 3547

Dear Radio Friends,

Not only at this time of year, but always, the account of Jesus’ birth is a reason for rejoicing.  It may be the day after the traditional day the church commemorates Christ’s birth, but it makes little difference, since the traditional day is not really the day on which Christ truly was born anyway.  Today, the day after, on our broadcast, we are going to consider the Christmas account.  We are going to consider the song of the angels in Luke 2:13, 14.  Those verses read:  “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

      Now, it has been questioned as to whether these words the angels spoke here in this verse were actually a song.  After all, this passage does refer to the fact that these angels said these words of praise, not sang them.  Yet, when we sing our Christmas carols at this time of year we always refer to the praise of the angels as singing.  They sang the words “Glory to God in the highest.”  Question is, is that an embellishment of the account of Jesus’ birth, as so many Christmas carols are apt to do?

      The answer is, No.  In this case it is not an embellishment.  And we say this for a few reasons.  First, these angels were praising God with the words they spoke.  And, although it is true that we can praise God in our words without singing, nevertheless, the term for “praise” here in these verses speaks of a singing praise, praises given by the medium of song.  Secondly, there was a multitude of angels, a host of angels together.  And they praised God together, not by means of a hodge-podge of heavenly voices all speaking through one another.  Together they sang the words of praise.  I suppose they could have spoken these words together in a chant.  But more than likely, they sang the words.  So it is God’s praise today, too, that we sing along with the angels.

      This event of the angels on the hills of Bethlehem and their song is a revelation of God’s glory.  The glory of God is excluded most often from the Christmas celebration of many today.  They see the Baby of Bethlehem, but they forget God altogether.  We, however, today, must know and believe that the very purpose of God in the birth of His Son was to glorify Himself.  That must be our starting point when considering the birth of Jesus Christ.  The angels that suddenly appeared on the hills of Bethlehem joined in singing together for that reason—to praise God, as we learn in verse 13.  “Glory to God in the highest.”

      That says everything about the attitude of the Christian as he commemorates the birth of Christ.  The account of His birth in Scripture is not intended to make us feel all fuzzy and cozy over a quaint Christmas story being told.  The birth of Christ ought to work in our hearts praise to God for making our salvation possible through the birth of His Son.  Is that the praise that is found in your heart this time of year?

      You know, the glory of God is a striking thing.  Whether man gives glory to God or not does not make God more or less glorious.  And that is because of what God’s glory is.  It is the shining forth of all of His virtues, all of His perfections.  It is the shining forth of God’s majesty and power, His holiness and goodness, His grace and mercy, His truth and righteousness.  God is all of these virtues.  They make up who He is.  God can never be known or viewed apart from these infinite virtues.  And these virtues shine forth so brightly that to look upon the face of God would mean that we would be consumed.  He dwells in the light of glory unto which no man can approach, especially one who is a sinner.  To behold that glory of God would not only blind the sinner, but also destroy him.  It was this glory that shone forth from the countenance of the angel that brought the message to these shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem.

      These angels had come down from the very presence of God.  And they had reflected, in a small way, that glory of God.  It made these shepherds fear and quail before them.  “Fear not,” the angel had to tell the shepherds.  “Do not be afraid.”  It is this same glory the angels now sing of as they appear in the presence of these lowly shepherds.  God is the God of all glory.  He is the God who dwells in the highest of all places.  He sits enthroned in the heavens above the earth and sky.  And there, in His dread majesty, He rules over heaven and earth.  There He directs all the events of this world, including the very moment of Christ’s birth, in order to accomplish His goal and His purpose for all things.  God is all glorious as He sits there.  The angels recognize this glory of God.  “Glory to God in the highest.”

      And that is what we sing, too.  We sing it out loudly and powerfully, from hearts that are overwhelmed by, consumed with, the glory and majesty of our God.  We sing of praise to God.  We extol Him for His glory because God has revealed that glory to His people in the birth of His Son.  God has revealed to them what so many cannot see because God has blinded their eyes to it.  But God, in His good pleasure, has chosen to reveal to believers in Christ what He has hidden from the wise and the prudent of the world.  Those lost in their unbelief are wise in their own conceits.  They do not seek after God.  They do not see in Jesus a Savior who is sent to do God’s will.  They ascribe an altogether different meaning to Christmas, as we will find in a moment.

      But we see God’s glory revealed in the very birth and in the very face of our Lord Jesus Christ.  How?  In the most beautiful of ways.  A humble handmaiden of God, a virgin, born into the fallen, yet royal line of David, was visited by that God in the highest.  She conceived in her womb that Holy thing that is the very Son of God made flesh.  This virgin’s name was Mary.  And she was, as we learned last week, espoused to a man named Joseph.  The two of them, together, made their way from Nazareth, their hometown, to Bethlehem, a little village just a few miles south of Jerusalem.

      Caesar Augustus, the emperor of that day, had issued a decree that all the world should be taxed and that, therefore, everyone must register for that tax.  Well, Mary and Joseph were of the line of David, who was born in Bethlehem, the village of Boaz and Ruth so many years before.  God, who lives in the highest and directs all things according to His sovereign will, chose this moment in all of history to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament.  God did all of this in order to glorify Himself in all the earth.

      So it was that Joseph and Mary came to Bethelehm.  And finding it filled with people who were there for probably the same reason as they, they could find refuge only in a cattle stall.  There was no room for them in the inn, just as there is never any room in the heart of fallen man for the Christchild.

      While in that cattle stall—and we know the story well, do we not?—Mary went into labor.  And by the end of the day, she had given birth to an infant son.  To keep the child warm, Joseph wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, long linen cloth.  And then, to relieve Mary of the stress, he laid the baby in a manger to rest.  In this way the King of all the earth was born into extreme poverty.  No nice white sheets or sterilized hospital room.

      The earth did not sing or dance at His birth.  Humanity did not break out in Hosannas and joyful chorus.  The palace in Jerusalem was not decorated with bright ornaments and lights and red ribbon against green holly.  Jesus was born into poverty, in order that we who are spiritually poor might become rich.

      But there, in that manger, we see the revelation of God’s glory.  The world did not see it then, nor does it see it today.  That is why the story is embellished with quaint little manger scenes.  There are shepherds around a tiny manger with an image of Christ in it.  There are three magi, as if anyone knows that there were three.  There are peaceful looking sheep.  And, oh yes, let us not forget a little drummer-boy.  But then, why bother with a manger scene?  Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, with Rudolph and the other reindeer—these really do a better job in revealing what Christmas is all about.  They reveal the Christmas spirit.  The wicked world does not see God’s glory revealed in that manger.

      That lowly birth of our Savior does not “make the season bright.”  But we see the glory of God revealed to us there.  There is no doubt that we see, and full-well understand the shame that surrounded the birth of our Savior.  Not only was He born in a cattle stall, but, what is more, the glory that was Christ’s as the Son of God, was veiled over in human flesh.  Christ looked like any other baby boy as He lay there in that manger.  Who could see in His face the very Son of God?  Divine.  But we look upon that Christchild this day with the eyes of faith.  And we see Him for who He really is.  He is God with us, our Immanuel.  God has manifested Himself in our flesh.  The Son of God came down from His glory on high and visited us poor sinners.

      And He did this in order that He might deliver us from our sin.  We were lost.  We were lost and condemned in our sin.  The only thing we deserved from God is condemnation and death.  God’s curse lay upon the human race.  But God, in His great mercy and grace, sent forth His Son in order to redeem His people from sin and death.  God, in His great love for us, sent His Son in order to satisfy His justice and make us righteous before Him.  Do you see what all of this is, dear listener?

      All these are the attributes of God that together make up His glory.  All these virtues, all these perfections of God, are evident in the birth of Christ.  And it is for that reason that the birth of Christ is, in fact, the very revelation of God’s glory.  In Him all the virtues of God are revealed to us.  And for that reason we praise God today.  “Glory to God in the highest!”  Now we can understand why the angels were singing the praises of God there in the hills of Bethlehem.  It is that knowledge of God’s glory that brings peace to the heart of every true believer.  The song of the angels is that of glory to God.

      But there is also that last part of the song of the angels where they say, or sing, “And on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Never, of course, may these two parts of their song be separated.  The moment they are separated, error is at the doorstep.  Never can true peace be separated from the glory of God revealed in Christ.  As soon as these are separated, then the kind of peace of which one thinks is a false peace.  And it is this false peace of unbelief that the world wishes to emphasize at this time of the year.  Many in the church, too, cater to that idea of peace.  How often this very verse is mentioned in the conception of peace offered by the false church to this world?  Many in the church of today declare glory to God because they desire that Christ bring peace to this present earth.  Peace on earth.  An additional error is attached to this false peace.  God has good will toward every man.  God is favorably inclined toward the wicked world and desires peace for the wicked world too.  The only reason the wicked do not find this peace that God offers to them is that man does not wish to listen to God and His plan for this world, it is said.  Man stands in the way of the peace that God desires for us in His goodwill toward men.

      That’s the false message of hope proclaimed by many a Christian church today.  They understand peace in a carnal way—merely as an end to world strife, strife between nations, strife between races, strife between social classes, and so on.  Peace is solving the problems of this present world—the economic problems, the problems with sickness and disease, the problems of starving people.  Peace is giving money to the downtrodden and the homeless, those who are not as well off as we are.

      Do not misunderstand me.  The believer may, and even ought to, take pity and may help those who are not as well off as he is.  We do not deny this.  But true peace, true peace, does not consist in these earthly things.  The wicked declare “peace, peace” when there is no peace.  There is no peace to the wicked, God says, through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah.  Christ says, “I came not to bring peace to this world, but a sword.”  There is no true peace found in sin.  There cannot be.  It is sin that destroys all true peace.  As long as it is around, there will not be peace.  Peace can come only through that child born in Bethlehem—and not through the example of that child, but by the death of that child.

      Ha, what a thing to think about at this time of the year.  How morbid!  This is a time of joy.  We are talking about the birth of Christ.  Why are you trying to talk now about the death of Christ?  Well, we cannot help but see the suffering of Christ, even in His birth.  He was born into this world suffering the humiliation that comes with the perfect One, the all-glorious One, being born into the flesh of sinners.

      Besides, the death of Christ is not a reason for mourning.  It is the joy that thrills the heart of the child of God.  Christ was born into this world as our Savior.  He takes on Himself our sin and He carries it away.  We see our Savior in Bethlehem.  And with that salvation that He brings, He also brings peace.  The peace that comes from salvation from sin is the true joy of the season because it alone is true peace.  Deliverance from sin and being restored to God’s favor brings peace to a weary heart that is burdened with that sin.  On earth, peace, goodwill toward men.

      In a certain sense it is too bad that the King James version does not translate this song of the angels clearly enough for us.  The literal, and the proper, translation of these words of the angels is this:  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace toward men of God’s good will,” or good pleasure.  And that we must properly understand.  God’s peace on earth is directed toward those people who are of His good pleasure.  This is true because these are the holy ones, the only ones who indeed see in Christ salvation from sin.  These are only those whom God leads to Christ to find in Him alone such joy.

      Now we know what the angels sang of that night.  Now we know the joy that they had.  And we know the message that they sang.  To God be the glory for what He has done.  And to God’s elect people, chosen from eternity as the objects of God’s good pleasure, peace to them.  Peace to you and me, fellow believers.  That is what we hear in the song of the angels.  We are God’s treasure.  He finds His pleasure in us.  He loves us.  He knows our sin and our misery.  In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ God reveals to us His virtue and His grace.  And we are saved.

      We sing with the angels:  Glory be to God.  To Him be all the praise, honor, power, and dominion for ever and ever.  May His name be glorified in all the earth.  May His will and good pleasure be fulfilled.  And on earth, peace toward men of His good pleasure.  Peace be to you, saints of God.  Not just an earthly joy and peace.  But may you experience in your hearts amidst all the trials and afflictions, amidst all the pains and sorrows, all the failures, may you experience God’s true peace—a peace that can give joy even when there are tears on your face.  But also with all the successes and victories in all the works of your hands in this new year, peace be unto you and joy from our covenant God, who has revealed His glory to us in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Let us pray together.

      Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the Son whom Thou hast sent into this world.  And we ask that Thou wilt grant unto us the peace that comes with salvation from sin.  We know that He was sent by Thee into this world and was born of a virgin in order to earn that salvation for us.  We appreciate, Father, that salvation.  And in thankfulness we sing Thy praise:  Glory to God in the highest.  We ask it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.