24 December 2018†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Christmas Eve†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďGlory to God in the HighestĒ
Text: Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14
(Note: Our Advent midweek meditations this year have been hearing the Christmas story as told by the angel Gabriel - what it might have sounded like had he told the story, from his perspective. Tonightís meditation is the last installment of that series. So, listen to Gabrielís story one more time . . . And again, though the Biblical text doesnít tell us it was Gabriel who announced the birth to the shepherds, I have taken the liberty of assigning him that role for the purposes of this story.)
It had been a busy year! Actually more than a year - some 15 months in all. First the visit to Zechariah, then the visit to Mary, then apparing to Joseph in a dream, and all the watching, guarding, and protecting I did in between. If angels could get tired like you humans, I would be one tired angel! But it was such a joy watching our Father put His plan into action. The plan He had promised so long ago, when Adam and Eve first fell into sin and plunged all of creation into sin with them. But our Father waited for just the right time. And He had made me, Gabriel, such an important part of it!
Well, when I last talked to you I had just appeared to Joseph in a dream, to let him know that everything was okay. That the child Mary was carrying was not of adultery, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was, in fact, the Son of God. That Word of God had worked in Joseph and he believed. He took Mary to be his wife and did not divorce her.
The next six months were filled with activity as Joseph and Mary not only went about their lives, but got ready for this baby. But then, one rather large monkey wrench got thrown into their lives! Caesar Augustus issued a decree, that all the world should be taxed. Everyone would have to go to the town of his ancestors and register there, so that Rome could be sure they were collecting all the taxes they should. I know how much you all love to pay taxes! So there was no small amount of grumbling going around Galilee and Judea. This meant a change of plans for Mary and Joseph - and right around the time Mary was due to have the baby! They would have to make the trek down to Bethlehem. It was not going to be easy.
So they packed up and started off. I was one of the team watching over them as they went. Poor Mary! She was so uncomfortable. And Joseph - you could see the worry that never left his face. His head seemed like it was on a swivel, constantly turning to look where they were going, and then to Mary. Back and forth. When they stopped for the night, he was asleep before his head hit the pillow. And then they were on the road again, first thing in the morning. I think Joseph was trying to get there and back before the baby came. And I have to say, they were making good time.
When they got to Bethlehem, the place had swelled to a population far greater than normal. It was busting at the seams! You see, Bethlehem had the honor and distinction of being the city of David, and Davidís lineage was long and full. So many people were there. Joseph and Mary hoped to stay with some of their relatives, but all the guest rooms were full. Finally, one offered to let them stay with their animals. It wasnít ideal, but it would be warm.
Well, they no longer got to the place when Mary cried out in pain - the baby was coming! Really? Joseph though. Here? Now? But there wasnít much he could do about it. He helped as he could; tried to make Mary comfortable. And where would they put Jesus once He was born? He looked around for whatever extra things were lying around. Maybe he could build a cradle. He was a carpenter, after all. But there wasnít enough, or enough time. The baby was coming and wasnít going to wait for him! So Joseph dumped out the manger and put clean straw in it - that would have to do. Beggars canít be choosers.
You know, I thought to myself: only our Father would do it this way! Choose to have His Son born like this. In such lowliness and humility. And I thought of the words of Isaiah the prophet: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . Yes, this was Godís Son here in this manger! Given as a gift to the world. And the government shall be upon his shoulder . . . Those tiny shoulders, so little now, but which would one day bear the cross and rule from it as His throne. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Yes, He was all of those things, for they were not just names, but descriptions of what Jesus would be.
Well, I was so wrapped up in my thoughts and at the wonder of all that I was seeing that I almost missed the call! One of my brothers had to come back and shake me out of it. Gabriel! Címon! he yelled. I hated to leave, but we had an important mission to do. Yes, we. Not just me, this time. It was to go out to the fields around Bethlehem and find the shepherds our Father had told us about. To find them and tell them that their Saviour had been born.
Now, you might think: why shepherds? They werenít the most educated people, and being a shepherd wasnít a glamorous job. In fact, it was pretty rough. But, you see, our Father misses no detail and takes advantage of every opportunity to teach you. Because if His Son is born to be the Lamb of God, who else should come to see Him but shepherds! You see? It makes sense! And, itís how our Father usually does things. He doesnít just favor the rich, important, and powerful - He likes to go to the poor, lowly, and weak and lift them up with His good news. And boy, did He ever!
So we found the shepherds our Father told us about, right where He said they would be. And then it was time for me to speak again. Yes, our Father had given me another honor: to announce to the shepherds the fulfillment of the Scriptures, the birth of the promised Saviour. He had actually given me this assignment a few weeks ago, and me and all my brother angels, weíd been practicing our lines ever since. What incredible news we got to bring! And now it was time.
I came to the shepherds. They were huddled together in the cold, trying to stay warm. When I appeared, the glory of the Lord was so bright that it completely overwhelmed the light coming from their fire! And as you can imagine, this caused no small amount of fear in them. Theyíd never seen an angel before, or light like this. It was terrifying. So I quickly spoke, before they tried to run away and hide! And yes, as always, I spoke exactly what my Father told me to speak:
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And here I am telling you these same good tidings of great joy, too! For if it is for all people, then it is for you, too. That you rejoice in this birth, too. That you rejoice in your Saviour, born for you this night. Born to save you from your sins. I hope you know how big that is. Because without Him, youíd have no hope. Without Him, youíre that unidentifiable fuzzy green thing thatís been in the back of your refrigerator all year that makes you sick just looking at it! Really, thatís what you and your sin looks like! And it just needs to be thrown out.
But our Father loves you so much, He said no. Iím not going to throw them away. Iím going to save them. And Iím going to send my Son, my only-begotten Son, to do it. Every time I tell that part of the story, my now-evil-former-brother satan gets so mad! He hates that part of the story. He doesnít mind if people know the story of Jesusí birth - as long as they donít know why, or donít care what it means. As long as itís just a story. But he hates it when I talk about what it all means, and the life and forgiveness and saving God is now doing for you. In Jesus. Thatís itís more than just a story.
Well, I had no longer told the angels about their Saviour than all my brothers came out of hiding and starting singing! They were so excited. I knew they couldnít wait, but it was - literally! - like no more than a nanosecond after I finished that they came out and burst out in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. I was singing so loud I almost lost my voice! I canít imagine how loud it must have sounded to the shepherds.
Finished what we had come to do, my brothers and I all vanished before the eyes of the shepherds. Half of us went back to Jesus. The other half of us continued to watch over the shepherds, though they couldnít see us anymore. And immediately they got up and went to find Jesus. They left their sheep - Iím sure they still cared about them, but figured if God took the trouble to send us angels to tell them this good news, then He would also protect their sheep.
It didnít take them long to find Jesus. Mary and Joseph graciously let them in. I guess they knew their baby really wasnít their baby, but belonged to everyone. Especially after the shepherds told them what had happened. And then I heard one of the shepherds speak. He said it quietly, but I distinctly heard what he said: Heís just like one of us.
You know, sometimes the greatest theology comes from the most unexpected places. For that shepherd was exactly right. The Son of God didnít become an angel - He became just like you. He was made man. Just like you in every way, except without sin. So that He could take your place. So that He could take your sin. So that He could die your death. So that He could be your Saviour.
I lost track of time again! I donít know how long the shepherds were there. Probably not too long. Mary was pretty tired and I know Joseph was exhausted. So the shepherds left, but they couldnít stop talking about all that had happened. That Once in Royal Davidís City, in the Little Town of Bethlehem, the Herald Angels Sang and told them about the newborn king. Thatís the message youíve heard tonight, too. And sang. And just as it changed the shepherdsí world, so it has yours, too. How could it not? For the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Thatís not just talking about the shepherds, but about you. And all people. The darkness of sin thatís now scattered by the love and forgiveness of Jesus. So that you can live a new life. Like Paul wrote to Titus about, in those words you heard earlier. To be people zealous for good works.
You know, we angels have discovered that sometimes you humans donít like being told to do good works. We angels love it! We love doing whatever our Father tells us! But thatís how badly sin has ruined you. You donít always love it when our Father calls your name, like we do.
So, maybe, think of it like this instead. When Isaiah wrote his words that you heard tonight, he ended by saying: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. And then Paul used that same word again in writing to Titus, to be zealous for good works. So, like Father, like son. Youíre sons of God now because of Jesus, so you get to be just like your Father. Loving and serving and forgiving. Jesus became just like one of you, that you be just like Him. And me and my brother angels, weíve seen it; weíve seen our Father working that in you, and weíve seen you be that way. Itís so cool. The change. From seeing the shame and fear in Adamís eyes in the Garden, to now seeing the love and forgiveness of God in your eyes. Our Father has done wonderful things for you and in you, and now through you for others. So, when He calls you or calls on you, donít be afraid. I know we angels are saying that a lot! But really, donít be afraid. Itís all good. It really is. Heís your Father. And tonight, His Son, your brother and Saviour, is born.
So Gabriel, signing off, one last time. In Jesusí name. Amen.