Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent 3 Midweek Homily -- Luke 2:8-20 (Gloria in Excelsis)

December 16, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

The angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

The words of the Gloria in Excelsis are the last of the songs from St. Luke’s Gospel that we will consider during this Advent season. (The Nunc Dimittis will be taken up on the First Sunday after Christmas, December 27.) We have already heard Mary’s worship of the Lord God for His exalting work. Zecharias’ song praised the Lord for remembering His promises and sending salvation to His people. Tonight, we are graced with an angelic hymn—a song first sung by no human voices.

In fact, we heard two angelic hymns in praise of the Lord God. From the prophecy of Isaiah, we listened in on the choir of heaven singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory.” The seraphim praise the holiness that the Lord God possesses and His glory that even all the creation cannot contain. Peeking into Paradise, mortal man is terrified. Isaiah records his dread, his certainty that he was eternally doomed.

The prophet said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the Lord of Hosts!” The glory of God fills heaven and earth, and it is a terrifying thing for us humans, we who are tainted and corrupted by sin. We cannot bear to see the glory and holiness of the Lord God, for it is a power greater than we. It seeks to engulf and destroy all that is contrary to it; a divine perfection that obliterates creation’s sinfulness.

But Isaiah is spared from doom, but only as his sin is purged from him. A holy coal cauterizes the wounds of sin and transgression: “Your guilt is taken away; and your sin is atoned for.” Isaiah does not receive eternal death, but life instead. By heavenly action done for him, Isaiah he is enabled to speak the words of the Lord God.

The same glory of the Lord frightened the shepherds of Bethlehem. We know the story well, even without hearing it again this evening. The angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds: “The glory of the Lord shone all around them. And they were sore afraid.” The reaction of the shepherds is the same as Isaiah’s: “We’re all going to die! Woe is us! Our eyes have seen the Lord’s glory!”

But just as Isaiah heard, the shepherds are given a message of forgiveness: “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy.” The angel’s message tells the shepherds: “In Bethlehem the Savior is born, the One who will save His people from their sins. Do not fear, for your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.” The heavenly touches mortal Isaiah, and he is forgiven. The Lord God touches creation by entering it and being born that Bethlehem night, and the world’s sins are atoned for.

Such events receive angelic worship, for no human mouth can truly praise it. So the cherubim and seraphim sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” The heavenly host praise God and tell all humanity about how the Lord God will use His glory. Their song testifies that the Christ’s arrival, the entrance of the Lord God into creation was meant for our benefit.

Humanity was not greeted that evening with a song of doom. Our ears did not hear the battle hymn of heaven or a Valkyric war cry. Instead, we are graced with a harmony of praise and comfort: praise of God and comfort to mankind. The shepherds heard the song of salvation: “good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

Perhaps that is why this portion of St. Luke’s Gospel is so beloved by many of us. We all know the power and glory of God, but we want confirmed that He uses them for our good, for our salvation and not our destruction. For all of us know the reaction of Isaiah and the Bethlehem shepherds. The perfection and majesty of God exposes our uncleanness. What we cover in the shadows of shame and darkness are brought into bright light for Him to see.

Confronted with that, our consciences cry out in fear and terror. We may even be moved to cowering and tears when our sin is exposed. But then we are presented with that angelic message. The divine words of heaven come down to us again: “I have touched you and you are clean. I have entered your world and your guilt is taken away. I have died and risen, your sins are atoned for.”

The message that the angels brought to Bethlehem with their song is the summary of the Gospel: God is glorious and His pardon and peace is given to those whom He loves. So it is that we sing their song, too. We sing it in the worship of our Lord, for we believe it to be true.

We join the angelic hymn on the Sundays when we have the Lord God come to us to touch our lips and cleanse them, when He comes to absolve us of our guilt with His grace. The angels’ song is given to be our song when our Lord Jesus Christ comes to us in His proclaimed Gospel and His Body and Blood distributed to forgive our sins.

The good news of that Bethlehem night is meant for Christmas. But it is also meant for our Advent, Lent, Easter, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, or whatever day in which we find ourselves. The angels proclaim our forgiveness because of the Lord’s merciful nature. They sing about the Savior, the One born to die so that we may live and the One who lives so that we may never die.

So let us sing about that Savior as we celebrate His coming for our salvation: “Glory to God in the highest, and one earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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