Friday, December 25, 2015

Further thoughts on music in the Christmas accounts of Luke's Gospel

Luke 2:13-15  And suddenly there appeared 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 men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”
The Glory of Christmas
Merry Christmas to those who are reading this blog today.  Yesterday we began to look at the musical side of the Christmas story.  We noted two songs in Luke's record that spoke of Christ's coming: "The Magnificat" and "The Benedictus".  Today's blog features the third of five songs recorded by Luke in Luke 2:14, which in the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) would had begun with the first word "gloria" (hence its title in some of today's Bibles).  You may recognize that this word is where we derive our word "glory".  To glory in something means to think or regard someone or something with the highest thoughts possible.  No doubt, this shortest of the five songs tells us something profound about the night Christ in his humanity would be born.

It took all of Heaven to tell of His glory here on earth - The Biggest Concert Ever
The number of angels in Heaven, though not specifically given to us, are roughly revealed to us in scripture.  In passages such as Daniel 7 and Revelation 4 and 5 we discover that there are in upwards of 100 trillion angels sings praises to God, day and night. 

Now here on planet earth, we have over 7 billion people.  To just give you an idea of how big the heavenly hosts are, 100 trillion angels would be enough for every person on planet earth to have over 14,000 angels.  To put it in another perspective, in order to have a room big enough to accomodate 100 trillion people, you would need a room that would be over 60 million miles long and wide (roughly corresponding to the orbit of Venus around the sun)! 

No doubt, what the shepherds saw in the short burst of Heavenly glory would had no doubt frightened them.  The angelic host, bringing the news of the Savior's birth, would had stretched literally from Heaven to earth. 

This huge concert lasted less than five seconds
In the original Greek of Luke the angels sung 11 words.  Why so short?  If we know one thing about the God of the Bible - He can communicate an whole lot in a few words.  Moreover, if the glory of God being refracted and reflected through these angels had been in that field any longer, the whole world and universe would had been destroyed!  Isaiah for instance tells of a vision He saw in Isaiah 6, where the foundations of God's throne room in Heaven "shook" at the singing of his glory by the angels.  So if the environment designed to withstand the continuous praise of God's glory could hardly sustain such glory, imagine the result for this world.

What did the angels sing?
This enormously short concert communicated an enormous amount to these shepherds.  When we unpack Luke 2:14, here is what we learn about the incredible good news brought that first Christmas night:

1. God's Glory in human flesh is mind blowing.  In the original language we could translate the first part of the angel's song as: "Glory is in the most high God".  These angels, as powerful and as smart as they were, marveled at the miracle that took place on that first Christmas night.  Their Creator was going to manifest himself through a second, aquired nature - a human one.  The One whom they had worshipped as sharing the eternal undivided Divne nature with the Father and Holy Spirit would be revealed in frail humanity.  1 Peter 1:12 records that the angels are still blown away by what God did, for Peter writes at the end of that verse: "things into which angels long to look". 

2. God's Grace among humanity is most beautiful.  The next part of their song has these words: "and on earth peace".  When angels normally showed up in scripture, unless they specifically said so, their showing up usually meant judgment.  In a much lesser way, if I saw a row of police cars and firetrucks coming toward my house and pulling into my driveway, I would be alarmed, for I would wonder why it is they have come. 

However, if the police and fire rescue told me they had come to surround me to protect me from an approaching firestorm sweeping accross the county, I would find their flashing lights and blaring sirens most beautiful.  I would have no fear.  When Christ came that night, he was heralded by Heaven's Angelic Servant Squad!  He came to accomplish salvation that would shield all those who would believe on Him from the fiery wrath of God that is coming on this world. (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3)  We can tell by the Shepherd's excitement that this news was beautiful to hear - God Himself has come to the rescue. 

3. God's Gospel announces salvation to all who by grace believe. The last part of the angels' song tells us: "among men with whom He is pleased."  How is a person made pleasing to God?  It is not by good moral living. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Its not by keeping the ten commandments. (Romans 3:20)  Its not by going to church, being baptized, joining a civic organization or any other method of man's righteousness. (Isaiah 64:6).  There is only one way one can be pleasing in God's sight - be as good or as "much in the right" (i.e righteous) as God is! 

The righteousness required in salvation cannot be grasped by journeying up to heaven through a human ladder of morality. Both Old and New Testaments proclaim in unity that in effect - God is the One Who chooses to supply the requirements by coming down to where we are - which is the whole point of the incarnation (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Romans 10:1-8). 

Now the Bible is pretty clear, there is no human being who could ever attain that level of moral and spiritual goodness.  However there is only one human being who was indeed as right as God - for He is God - that One is Jesus Christ.  Everything He merited before God can be credited to you when you by faith trust in Him.  That is what the angels were singing.  "On whom His favor rests" means that God's grace has come, calling out to you to believe on the One whom He sent. (John 3:16; John 17:3)

Therefore in order to receive everything that Christ ever accomplished into your life, there is only one means by which you can be declared "in the right" with God - faith alone.  That is not only good news, and not only great news, but that is news worth singing about!

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