Sermon – Christmas Eve – Luke 2:14 – "Gloria In Excelsis Deo" – 12/24/10

There is an old legend, and it is really nothing more than that, that years after the that first birth announcement was given to those shepherds, some of the older shepherds were trying to remember how that song that the angels sang went, on that night when they were keeping watch over their flocks. As they sat on the hillside under the stars at night keeping watch over their flock, they tried again and again to recall the words and the tune. As they struggled for recall, they heard a lamb bleating in the distance. Another one had gone astray. They each looked at each other to see which would leave the warmth of the fire to go into the cold, dark night to rescue the lost sheep. Finally, a young boy who, would have been too young to have heard the angel's announcement that first Christmas night, got up from the campfire and went out in the dark of the night to find the lost sheep. Finding the lamb, he lifted it onto his shoulders and brought it back to the fold. As the young boy drew near, he was humming a tune that he had learned from his father who said that he had heard it one night while keeping watch over his flocks by night. It was the tune to the song that the angels had sung on that first Christmas night.

"Gloria in Excelsis Deo!"
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased."

This evening, we've left the comfort of our homes to hear that song that the shepherds heard on that first Christmas night. We want to share in the mystery of that night and experience their amazement. We want that fear that they must have felt to touch us too. And most of all, we want to hear for ourselves that good news that they heard.

Of course, it's impossible for us to replicate their fear and amazement and the mind-blowing wonder of it all. And that's because know more than they did. They didn't know this was coming or what it all meant or where it was all leading. But we do.

But the one thing that is the same for us as it was for them is the "good news" that announced to them. It's the same good news that is announced to us this evening. "Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

We need look no further than the choir that is commissioned to sing this song to comprehend its significance. It was a common practice in the Middle East that when a baby boy was born, friends of the new parents would hire local musicians who would come to the house and greet the newborn with music and song.

Mary and Joseph however, were out of town when the time came for Jesus to be born. None of their friends even knew that she had given birth let alone where to send the musicians.

But the angels knew. While the whole world went about it's business, unaware of the eternal moment that had fully come, this heavenly choir was busy keeping the appointment for which they had been commissioned since the foundations of the earth were laid.

Normally, heaven and earth are so far separated one from the other that there is no connection between the two. Normally, we're not able to look up into heaven and see those who live there and what they're doing. Rarely, someone like Isaiah or John is taken up to heaven and sees what's going on up there. And we see through their report.

We may sometimes have a feeling that those in heaven are able to look down and see us, and what we're doing. And we can't help but wonder sometimes what they must think as they watch us go about our daily routines. How often do you think that the inhabitants of heaven must shake their head and say, 'if they only knew how meaningless and temporary are the things they devote so much time and attention to and how clueless they are of the truly meaningful, eternal things that all around them.'

But here, in this field just outside of Bethlehem, heaven and earth are mingled together into one. It's a new heaven and a new earth, where the boundary line between the two is momentarily removed. Heaven touches earth and earth is all wrapped up in heaven, and men see angels with their two, earthly eyes and hear them with their two, earthly ears.

How utterly appropriate that heaven and earth should be so closely mingled like this at the birth of Jesus. For this child is none other than "God in the highest." He who is eternally seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty in the heavenly realms has come down into this world. Heaven has come down to earth and is dwelling among us in human flesh.

And why is this happening? What is the cosmic significance of this epic event? Please don't tell me, 'it's good for the economy.' No, God has come into this world to bring "Peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased."

Ever since the fall out between man and God in the garden of Eden, there's been an atmosphere of hostility between heaven and earth. Adam didn't trust God any further than he could throw an apple. And God kicked him out of His house and told him to try living on his own if he thought he could be like God. And the arguing and the bickering between God and man got hotter and hotter. God would say, 'why aren't you holy as I the Lord your God am holy? That's the way I made you.' And man would say, 'Your expectations are too high. I can never please you no matter how hard I try.' And not surprisingly, that kind of warfare spilled right over to husbands and wives and parents and children and brothers and sisters and employees and employers and nations and nations.

He has come to bring peace on earth, for every single two-legged earthling from the first one to the one. And here's how he'll reconcile God to man and turn the heart of man to love God. He will be the whipping boy for you and take all of the wrath and punishment that the Father has towards you for your sins upon Himself. And He will be the perfect man before the Father, the man with whom the Father is "well pleased." He will declare an end to the hostility and warfare between God and man by making peace in his human flesh.

Be careful that you don't get the wrong idea of the Father here. We dare not think Him as a grouchy old man who, with back turned and arms crossed gives into the pleading of His Son to cool down and be nice.

No, God the Father, so loved the world, He so loved you that He sent His only-begotten Son into this world so that all who believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life. This is the Trinity in Unity at work here.

Jesus is God's great Christmas present given to us to hang on a tree. He is crucified for a "peace on earth" that is like no peace this world can give. "Peace I give to you. My peace I give to you." (John 14:27) "Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ." (Rom.5:1).

This is the glorious message that this glorious choir sang for the lowly shepherds on that first Christmas night. And it is the message that is sung to us this night as well. The shepherds responded with joy and in faith and went to worship the baby Jesus, the God / man who has brought heaven to earth.

Martin Luther concludes his telling of the story of this glorious night to his children like this. "If I had been one of those shepherds, I wouldn't have believed. If I'd been God and wanted to save the world, I wouldn't have done it that way. I would have just called in the devil and twisted his nose and said, "Let my people go!" But God is amazing. He sends a little baby, as weak as an earthworm, lying in the feedbox of a donkey, and that little baby crunches the devil's back and overcomes all the power of Hell, and sin, and death.

The shepherds went to Bethlehem, and when they found the baby they knelt in adoration. Then they told the whole countryside round about what had come to pass.

And then we read, "And the shepherds returned." That certainly must be a mistake. It ought to be, "And the shepherds shaved their heads, and tolled their beads, and went into a monastery!" But no, it says they returned. And where to? To their calling; and to their sheep. And a very good thing for their sheep indeed."

This is the story that fathers and mothers are responsible for telling their children lest they forget the song of glory that was sung on this holy night over 2000 years ago. Likewise, no matter how old we are, we are all little children in God's site and He would have us listen to this story over and over again because he knows how forgetful we can be.

"Gloria in Excelsis Deo!"
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased."

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