This Advent we’ve been focusing on the songs of Christmas – not “Jingle Bells” or “Deck the Halls”, but those ancient Christian hymns as found directly in the pages of scripture itself.
We looked at the great proclamation sung by Zechariah, that God can do the impossible for those who fully trust in him.
Then we looked at Mary’s dramatic solo, where she, our Lord’s mother, proclaims her unshakable faith that God will keep his word to right the wrongs of the world; that unshakable faith that God will make all things new, beginning with breaking down our own pride.
And today we come to the most well known hymn of the scriptures – the song of the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
There are two things for us to notice in the angels’ song. First, it’s “glory to God”. Christmas, our salvation, and indeed all of creation is intended not to be an end in itself, but to demonstrate God’s glory and power.
This is an important reminder as we contemplate our Lord in a manger. This – this humble scene – is the One through whom all things were made stepping into his own creation.
And it’s glorious – complete with animals, and stables, and jam-packed guesthouses.
Sometimes, we’re ashamed of our mess – and, to be sure there are times when we just need to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and clean up our act. But, part of the glory of Christmas is that, while we might be ashamed of our mess, God isn’t. Our God is so great that he’s content to be found in a noisy, smelly stable, making even that lowly place beautiful; and he’s content to enter into the noise and mess of my life, and, by his grace, make it a dwelling place fit for a king.
That’s the point. “Glory to God in the highest” they sing, and “God finds glory” is the message, “even here”.
Peace on Earth
“Peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests”, we read.
This is one the world – and the popular Christmas songs – don’t get quite right.
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” is the message we hear.
But the angels sang “peace to those on whom his favour rests”, or, perhaps a more accurate translation of the Greek, “peace among those with whom he is pleased”.
One of the constant, and constantly shocking, phrases we hear on the lips of Jesus throughout the gospel is when he says “I have come not to bring peace, but division”. One of the absolute promises of Jesus is that, until he returns, we will be divided – mothers against daughters, fathers against sons, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, nation against nation, and faithful Christian against the unbelieving world.
Yes, peace is our goal. But to simply proclaim peace where there is no peace is the sign of the worst kind of deceit; the prophet Jeremiah likens it to a doctor who, seeing a patient with a mortal wound, slaps on a band-aid and says “you’ll be fine, go on your way”. The prophet Ezekiel says that one who says “peace” when there is no peace is like a contractor who puts up drywall without any studs and says “you can move in, the house is finished”, knowing full well that when it rains, the house will fall down.
The message of the angels is specific: it’s a message of peace for those with whom God is pleased.
It’s not talking about contentment or putting up with one another. No, the Peace of God, true, lasting peace, passes all understanding, and is powerful enough to keep our hearts and minds in the love of God. And the message brought not to kings or priests or the exalted leaders of the people, but to lowly shepherds in the fields, is that God declares “peace” for those with whom he is pleased.
…And who are those with whom he is pleased? Those who stay the course, who finish their race, repenting when they lose their way, and trusting Christ, the one in whose footsteps they tread; it’s to those that God says “well done, you good and faithful servant”.
It’s those, his faithful servants, to whom he declares the peace which passes understanding.
God with us – even in our mess.
In the next 10 days, as we do all that needs doing before Christmas, as we get flustered with last minute gifts, , and keeping anxious kids occupied after the last day of school, and re-doing that baking that doesn’t go right, and remembering loved ones no longer with us, and dealing with the family drama that always seems to rear its head this time of year, lets remember the angels’ song.
God finds glory, God wants to be with us, even in our mess.
And peace, true peace springing up inside regardless of whatever is swirling around us, is a gift; and it’s a gift that God will give to his people who commit to be his servants.
In these 10 days, find time, make time, to prepare ourselves to welcome him in; because, where he comes, even the mess becomes beautiful, and the chaos becomes peace.