Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14)
It may be the greatest choral presentation in the history of the world.
One nameless angel had the honor of playing the lead, with a veritable angelic
multitude behind him. But no tickets were sold, and the show was not announced
ahead of time. You might call it the first ever flash mob, and the audience was
simply a flock of unresponsive sheep and a lowly band of unsuspecting
shepherds. But it was too good to keep quiet about. All who heard it
wondered at what the shepherds told them (Luke 2:18). Word got out, and the
Gospel of Luke records to the story.
Good News of Great Joy
It had been a night just like any other in the fields outside Bethlehem, so we can
imagine the shepherds were seriously caught of their guard when the messenger
made his cameo. Angels sweetly singing o'er the plains may be how the
shepherds eventually remembered the show with nostalgia, but the first thing that
broken in on them was fear. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the
glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear (Luke 2:9).
So the angel addresses this right away, and clarifies that the grandeur of this
display, this shining of the glory of God, is not to make them cower, but to make
them deeply and enduringly happy. Fear not, for behold, I bring you good
news of 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 (Luke 2:10-11).
This good news of great joy...this declaration designed to make them
profoundly and eternally happy...is that, at long last, the long-awaited hope of
Israel, the Christ, the Anointed One about whom all the prophets have spoken, has
finally come. This is his advent, and this is not how anyone was expecting that it
would go down.
See Him in a Manger Laid
First of all, this grand announcement is happening as a private presentation for unsuspecting shepherds. These are not the kings and rulers, the scribes and
Pharisees, the learned and influential, the esteemed of the day. It is precisely the
opposite. These men live at the lowest rung of society. They herd sheep.
Here, from the very beginning, as God moves to give a savior for all people, he
does it not on the world's terms, according to popular expectation, but in his
own surprising, mysterious, and marvelous way. God chose what is foolish in
the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the
strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).
But not only does this extravagant announcement come to lowly shepherds, but
the Christ himself comes as a child, even as a weak and fragile infant, and is of
manifestly humble birth: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and
lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). No castle, no palace, no hospital, not even a
house and a crib...he is born in a stable, wrapped in the cheapest of raiment,
and laid in an animal feeding trough.
What is the meaning of this unusual path? Why shepherds? Why swaddling cloths
and a manger? Now cue the multitude of the heavenly host.
Glory to God in the Highest
After the messenger's solo, suddenly the massive choir appears, praising God
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is
pleased (Luke 2:14)!
This ostentatious presentation is not about the worth and merit of the shepherds.
The glory is not to them. And it's not about mankind's deservedness and
value. This gospel is for all people, and this peace is for all the earth, and all those
with whom God is pleased by faith (Hebrews 11:6), but the glory is not to them.
Rather, as the angels sing, this stunning news, and this strange and wonderful way
of doing it, is to the glory of God. He is the initiator and actor. He is the one who
has promised this Savior for centuries and now sends him in humility to shepherds
and all who acknowledge their lowliness. It is his goodness on display in this good
news, and the great joy he brings redounds to his praise: Glory to God in the
Christ the Lord?
But perhaps the most spectacular thing on this spectacular night is this subtle, but world-changing, line in the angel's declaration: this newborn is a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). It was an angel of the Lord who
appeared, and it was the glory of the Lord that shone around them, and
when the shepherds finally respond, they acknowledge that this is what the
Lord has made known to us (Luke 2:15).
Not only is this child sent from the Lord, but this is the Lord himself. Not only has
the Lord of heaven initiated and acted to rescue his lowly people from their sin and
shame, but he himself has come to earth, wonder upon wonder, and now dwells
among us, in our own flesh and blood.
Come, Adore on Bended Knee
The weight and magnitude of it all is too much to take in at once for the
shepherds, and even for Mary and Joseph. But the shepherds get the point, and
their hearts have the right instinct, even as their heads are still swimming. They
understood this wasn't about their worth or goodness, or the worth and
goodness of mankind, but the grace and mercy of God.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and
seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:20).