December 24, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
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 among those with whom He is pleased!”
The angel delivers a message that relieves the shepherds’ fear and brings joy to the earth. In response, the heavenly host sings in laud and praise of the event that ushers in the beginning of a new age. And this evening, we are privileged to receive a glimpse of the glorious incident in ancient Bethlehem and to hear all of the angel’s announcement. We are witness of the declaration of peace that the Lord sends to His creation.
Not all angelic messages are peaceful or comforting. They are often quite frightening and worrisome. We read in the Genesis account about the cherubim barring the entrance of Paradise to sinful humanity: no words needed; angels with flaming swords are enough. An angel standing in the middle of the road frightened Balaam’s donkey and kept him from cursing the Lord’s people. Another went through the Assyrian camp, slaughtering Sennacherib’s army. The prophet Daniel writes about the mysterious hand that inscribes the statement condemning Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire. John’s visions of revelation describe messages and events caused by angels that shake the world at its end.
But this time, over Bethlehem’s plain, the angel speaks a message of peace. The Lord declares peace with His creation and sends a celestial herald with the news, the message we know so well: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Good news the angel brings. He declares that a Savior has come. But not just any Deliverer, the Infant is the Promised Christ. And included in the angelic message is the news that the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled. We heard that prophecy this evening, a promise that the world will receive a Child who will bring divine authority and rule to us who rebelled against both.
Hear again those words of Isaiah: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” How many times during the centuries those words had entered human ears. But that evening in Bethlehem the words reach their full significance.
That is what this evening is to bring to our attention again. The prophetic statements about the Christ have been fulfilled. We no longer have to wait and wonder whether the Lord’s words will come true. Instead, we repeat the news that the angel brings: we have received salvation in the Person of Christ the Lord. It is the message that alleviates the fear—not just fright—that our consciences have.
This night with all the pomp and circumstance, all the decoration and adornment is a celebration of assurance and optimism. Not that we look into ourselves for it, but look to what the Lord has achieved for us. That is where our assurance and optimism come from. It’s why the shepherds’ fear and dread were transformed into joy and elation. The angel speaks and no condemnation or vengeance is found. Instead, the angel loudly and clearly discloses the statement that humanity has the Lord’s favor.
The angel’s statement is a divine declaration of peace given to us. Looking at our condition, the Creator could easily speak words of condemnation. In fact, He does. He weighs us in His balances of righteousness and finds us lacking. And not just us individually, but all of humanity. Our lives don’t measure up to the standard of divine perfection that is given us to meet. We are the people that Isaiah describes: “the people who walked in darkness”—the darkness of sin and death. Our fate should be waiting for the Hammer of God, the manifestation of divine wrath. And perhaps those shepherds in Bethlehem had expected such a thing when the angel first appeared: “they were filled with fear.”
But for us, this has changed. That is why this night is so special to us. Isaiah describes what was to happen: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Darkness is dispelled; light replaces it. And why? Because the Promised Christ has arrived. The Lord brings us His declaration of peace. And it includes not just words, but actions also. The prophesied Child is born, and with Him comes great things, just as the prophet spoke: “You have multiplied the nation; You have increased its joy; they rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, You have broken as on the day of Midian.”
That is the good news of that night in Bethlehem. All this is what that Child would achieve. It is the promise that the Infant Jesus, the One called the Christ, was destined to fulfill for all of us. He lifts our burden of sin. He removes the oppression of Satan from us. He chases away the darkness of death. All this because the Lord shows mercy, instead of dropping the hammer of wrath on us. Rather than His sword, we receive His Son.
Remember back to what Isaiah said about that Son: “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” It’s what the Christ has achieved for us. He carries authority and power. He possesses the zeal of the Lord of Hosts. And all of it is used on our behalf. Endless peace is given. Justice and righteousness are achieved.
That is the miracle of Christmas, something greater than what any TV special could describe. No, it’s found in the message that the prophet gives, that the angel speaks, that the Christ fulfills. We receive peace from God Himself, moved away from His anger to receive His approval. We receive justice from God Himself—not a justice of retribution, but of restoration. We receive righteousness from God Himself—something that we could not achieve in our lives of sin and corruption.
The message that the angel brings is meant for us. Born for you on this day was a Savior, a Redeemer, a Deliverer who is Christ the Lord. This is what the zeal of the Lord of Hosts has achieved for you. It’s what the Lord has made known to you. And it all boils down to this great statement: through this Son—and none other—you have the forgiveness of sins, you have life, you have salvation. All this is what the Promised Christ gives you through His life and His death and His resurrection, so that you may be just and righteous in the Lord’s sight. It is done for you by this Promised Son, as the Lord acts for you, not against you.
So the angel says: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The great joy is meant for you, for the Lord has given you His declaration of peace. The yoke of your burden, the bar of your oppressors have been shattered and broken. The good news is that you have been set free from the curse of sin, from the power of death, from the slavery of Satan. The Babe of Bethlehem has done this for you.
And in response, all that we can say is what we sang this evening: “Proclaim the Savior’s birth: To God on high be glory and peace to all the earth.” Or we can simply repeat the words of the heavenly host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” May that peace abide with all of you who have received the Lord’s favor.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.