Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 24, 2008 Christmas Eve Luke 2:1-14

And it happened in their being there the days were fulfilled for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her son, the Firstborn, and wrapped Him in swathing cloths and set him down in a manger, because there was not a place for them in the guest room. And shepherds were in the same region staying outside and watching guard in the night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord approached them and the glory of the Lord shown around them and they were afraid, with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Stop fearing, for look, I am proclaiming a good message to you--great joy which will be for all the people: that born to you today--a Savior which is Christ the Lord, in David's town. And this, to you, the sign: you will find a baby swaddled and lying in a manger." And unexpectedly there happened to be with the angel a numerous army of heaven, praising God and saying, "Glory in highest places to God, and upon earth peace on men--good will." And it happened as the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to each other, "Let's go through, then, immediately to Bethlehem and let's see this word which has occurred, which the Lord has made known to us!" And they went, hurrying, and discovered Mary and Joseph and the Baby lying in the manger; And having seen, they made known concerning the word spoken to them concerning this child. And all those having heard were amazed concerning the things spoken by the shepherds to them. Yet Mary kept guarding all these words; she kept pondering in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God upon all they heard and saw, just as it was spoken to them.

We have spent this Advent season contemplating the canticles which Luke recorded in his gospel. Zechariah's song at the birth of John the Baptist, Mary's song after she conceived the Savior, and Simeon's song as Jesus was presented to the Temple. And so we have journeyed through the 1st, the 2nd and the 4th canticle of Luke's gospel. But what of the 3rd? Well, that one cannot be called an Advent canticle, because it is the Christmas song from the words of the angel army to the shepherds.

Of all these canticles, the Gloria in Excelsis seems the oddest. It comes from an army of angels, so fearsome that just one of them making an appearance is enough to scare these poor shepherds out of their wits. This army was necessary, for no doubt Satan and all his demons were poised to pounce against the Savior as soon as He would be born. This angel army had a battle on its hands, to be sure, but for this brief moment, they proclaim not warfare, but peace to these simple shepherds.

An army sent to proclaim peace? This seems completely backwards! But it is not the kind of peace that most people would expect. God is not promising here that all nations would beat their swords into plowshares and all wars between peoples on earth would cease. Far from it. Such a horizontal peace between peoples will never occur until the last day. The peace these angels declared was a vertical peace, come down on earth from heaven above. It was God's peace with mankind. Why was such a peace so significant for us people? Because God has every reason to be anything but peaceful with such rebellious sinners like us. You know your own heart, which desires what you want, and could often care less about what others need, or what God's will is. The rebellion of our human nature has put a big rift between us and our holy, righteous God. God's wrath was upon us, and the guilt, the blame, and the punishment for our sins was an impending doom we would await.

But God didn't want to continue having hostility toward lawbreakers like us. So He did the unthinkable; the Father sent His eternally begotten Son from His right hand in heaven, down to earth to be humiliated! He conceived Him in Mary's womb, and caused Him to be born in the likeness of sinful flesh. But He inherited no sin from His daddy like we do, for His Father was the perfect God above! So He could do what you & I couldn't; He kept our half of the covenant, obeying God's Law.

But that's only part of what it meant for Jesus to be your Savior. He not only stood in your stead as Law-keeper for you, but then He also willingly took your place at the cross, suffering the punishment of your death in His Own person on the tree. There, God died so that mankind might live! All the Father's wrath: His anger and hatred against sin was poured out in full upon Jesus that day.

This is peace on earth. It is God's good-will. For in Christ Jesus, the whole world is reconciled to God the Father. The Savior born this day is God's good-will toward you. Jesus is your Peace on earth.

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