Fourth Day of Christmas
December 29, 2010
The Lord be with you
The homilies in my mid-week Advent worship series this past year were based on well know canticles from the Christmas Story. One of them, delivered Wednesday, December 15, received a number of comments about how it helped people "hear" the Christmas Story in a way that it must have sounded to many in the first century. While I normally do not post my sermons, I thought I'd post this one. I hope it is a blessing to you.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
Wednesday in the week of Advent 3
December 15, 2010
Text: Luke 2:13-14
Homily: The Angels’ Song
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)
Once again we all know the story. Shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night, received a visit from an angel announcing the birth of our Lord Jesus. Then, suddenly, that angel was joined by a host of angels, all praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, good will, towards men.” After the heavenly visit, the shepherds dash over to Bethelhem to check things out for themselves. They discover that everything told them was true. They then returned to their sheep, rejoicing and praising God for all they had seen and heard.
There is a problem with familiar stories. They get surrounded with the glow of tradition, of warm feelings, of comfort. It can be hard to hear them like the original audience heard them. So, if you will permit me, I shall re-tell the story, in a modern context. I will change dates and holidays, so the feel of the story might be closer to how people would have heard it in the first century.
It was Thanksgiving Thursday in Spartanburg. Everyone was gathered with family and friends to enjoy great dinners and watch some NFL football games. People were beginning to plan for Christmas. Most business had closed so their employees could spend some time with their families.
One exception was the Waffle House. What few customers they had had throughout the day had long since left. The cook and waitresses were keeping watch over an empty restaurant. Suddenly there was a tremendous light up in the sky outside. Everyone ran out and looked up. They couldn’t believe their eyes.
There, just above the light on the pole, was a being that looked like he was made of flame, not even remotely shaped like a human. The flames leaped off him every direction. They all fell down in fright. Then, from this living fire, came a voice. “Fear not, for look, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For to you is born this day in Spartanburg a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you, you will find the child in the Emergency Room at Regional Hospital.”
Then, suddenly, once the message was finished, the sky was filled with all sorts of beings. They were in every shape, size and color. Some looked like people, some looked like lions, some looked like eagles, some looked like hybrids between animals and people, some looked like living flames, some couldn’t be described as looking like anything we have ever seen, and all looked massive and powerful. Each and everyone of them had a voice, distinct from the others. And they began to sing.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will, towards men!”
Then, just as suddenly, while the employees were watching, the heavenly beings just vanished, disappeared. After talking it over, they closed the Waffle House and went to Regional. Their they found things just as the angels had said. There was a young girl, maybe fourteen. She had just given birth to a child. Her husband, who had been laid off from his construction job, was there. They had just arrived in Spartanburg that very day. They didn’t even have a place to live yet. Oddly there were no other babies in the hospital at the time, so this disadvantaged child had to be the one spoken of. So they told the father and mother what had happened at the Waffle House. They also told the whole staff at the hospital. To say the least, everyone was amazed. Then the employees returned to the Waffle House, changed forever.
Yes, changed, because the most improbable thing had happened. What they had seen and heard, was not believable, yet they were witnesses. Just think of it. If a Waffle House employee told you this story, if they said it happened this past Thanksgiving, if they said that they had checked it out, would you believe them?
And if the story is not believable, then the message would also be ignored. God, coming to humanity, bringing reconciliation between humanity and divinity, would be dismissed as evidence that the employees at the Waffle House had snuck some alcoholic beverages into work and were having their own personal Thanksgiving party.
No wonder the real party, the real celebration, at the first Christmas, was in heaven. Notice the accent of the words of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” “The highest” is heaven. That is where the angels and archangels, and all the heavenly hosts, praise God. On earth we tend to ignore God. Even when God breaks into human history, people tend to ignore it. Things are different in heaven.
This praising is not forced. It is natural. It is like when your favorite sports team wins. This past Sunday the San Diego Chargers won their game. No one forced me to be happy, it just happened. So it is in heaven. No one forces the heavenly hosts to rejoice. It just happens. What God does produces a natural response of giving God glory, of rejoicing. That we do not rejoice and give God glory reflects that we do not yet have the heavenly vision. Don’t worry. One day we will. When we are part of that heavenly host.
The second part of this song can be translated two ways. The ESV translates “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The KJV translates it, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The ESV translation could be understood as being focused on people. God has looked, found a certain group of people with whom he is pleased, and he is sending the Savior for all of them. In other words, Jesus comes for a select group of people who have met God’s requirements.
I think the KJV translation is superior. It matches the words of the first angel who said “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” not just some of the people. The reason for praising God is that God has taken the initiative and entered human history to bring to all people salvation. This matches what Paul wrote to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:4). This matches what Jesus told Nichodemus when he said, “God so loved the world,” not just a portion of the world (John 3:16). Again Paul wrote “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). The coming of Jesus, his sacrifice of himself to bridge the gulf between us and the Father, was not just for just a “few good men,” but for all.
God indeed works in mysterious ways. Always has. Always will. Praise God. For this the angels give glory to God in the highest. For this we also join the heavenly host in giving God glory, and in doing so have a foretaste of heaven. Amen.