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The Gloria in Excelsis: The Song of the Angels

Luke 2:10-14

Pastor Robin Fish

Wednesday of 3rd Sunday in Advent
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Wed, Dec 17, 2008
Wed of 3rd Sunday in Advent
 

Luke 2:10-14

And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger."  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

The Songs of Advent

The Gloria in Excelsis: The Song of the Angels

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Tonight is our last Advent Service for this year.  Next week we will celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.  You know how sometimes the original is the best?  Some songs or movies get re-done by others, but the first shot at it is always the best - at least in certain cases.  That is true of our Song of Advent for this service.  Tonight we look at the song of the Angels, the Gloria in Excelsis.  This is not the song with the same name we sing most of the year.  It borrows from this song, but the two are not the same song.  Tonight we want to listen to the original with the ears of faith, and hear what the angels had to say.

First, the song is probably misnamed.  The original Greek was "doxa in hypistois", and the Latin was "gloria in altissimis" I suspect that the Excelsis part was church Latin, which came along later.

Secondly, the song is not all song.  Some of it is in the form of an announcement.  The angels appeared - first one, and then the crowd (called "a multitude") - before shepherds outside of Bethlehem.  We often have them pictured floating in the air above the shepherds, but there is nothing in the text to indicate that.  The text says that the angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  It would appear that the angel suddenly appeared, and was shining with the glory of the Lord seen next on the mount of transfiguration.  It wasn't something you could ignore.  The area lit up like day.

And that was just one angel!  That one angel delivered the good news.  And by the way, that one angel could have been God Himself appearing - angel simply means "messenger", and God was known to do His own message delivery at times.  He greeted the Shepherds as God often has His angels greet men when they appear, "Do not be afraid."  That was necessary in this case because, as Luke notes, the Shepherds were terribly frightened by the appearing of the angel.

But this is the message of God to mankind: Fear not! The Gospel is about setting us at peace with God - rather than us being filled with terror.  The Gospel seeks to show us God and teach us to trust in Him rather than run from Him in fear.  The appearance of the angel was startling, to be sure, particularly to a pre-technological people who had never seen really good artificial lighting or special effects in movies.  The fact that we have probably wouldn't make much difference, if you encounter a glowing being in a pasture somewhere.  But I suspect that the terror that they felt was not about lights but about standing in the presence of the holy.  Here were humble and sinful men - humble in the sense of not being important people in the eyes of their society - but these men knew who they were and what they were, and they recognized the angel for what he was - and from Whom.  I imagine that if we were to confront true holiness in His person as we live here and now, we would be unnerved as well.

The angel described the message as good news of great joy.  Literally, the angel said, "I evangelize you with great joy", but the angel did not say that because he was having such joy doing it (although he was) but that the message was filled with such great joy.  And the message wasn't just for those shepherds or for the people of that region, or even just for the Jews.  It was a message of great joy for all people.  And what was this message filled with good news and great joy?  The long awaited moment had come!  For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior!

They summed up centuries of prophecy in that one announcement.  The Savior - promised in the Garden of Eden - the One through who all nations would be blessed - The One for whom Abraham had been chosen, and His people after him had finally come.  This was the One that Moses promised, the One who would be like Moses, who would speak to God face to face.  This was the one promised by Isaiah, who would suffer for the redemption of His people.  This was the One promised and spoken of again and again in Scriptures.  He is Christ, the Lord.

We have heard those words and that name so often that it has very little of the punch left that it carried back then.  Christ was the Greek form of the Hebrew word "Messiah".  It pointed to the long-awaited one.  The word carried the sense of the Chosen One of God - not just one of the chosen, but THE Chosen One.  Anointed - Christened, if you will - with the Holy Spirit and selected to be the King who would sit on the throne of His father David, and reign forever.

And He is Lord.  Again, we have heard the word so often, and heard it used improperly so often that it almost rolls off our tongue without a thought - and without its meaning.  "The Lord" was the name of the Covenant God of Israel.  This is the name of the Creator of all things.  When He gave Moses the name, it was "I am who I am."  But no one ever heard that name, because they didn't say it, back then.  The name was so precious that when they came to it in the text, they would say Adonai, or Lord, instead.  So when the angel said The Savior is born who is Christ the Lord, he was saying that the Savior was God Himself, come in the flesh, just as He had spoken through the prophets.

In other words, the angels said something like - Don't be afraid.  I have come to give you incredibly good news - and this is for everybody everywhere.  This very night, down there in Bethlehem, God has taken on human nature and human flesh and blood and has been born to save you from Sin, just as He promised.  And this is how you can tell who He is and which one of the babies in Bethlehem He is - you are going to find Him wrapped in those swaddling cloths that mothers use for diapers and baby clothes, and His cradle will be in a manger - in a stable no less!  God is coming among you like the most humble and common of you all!  What a great God!  Finally, everything that the prophets of old promised by God's inspiration is coming true, beginning tonight!

Then, just as suddenly as this one guy had appeared before them, there was a crowd of the heavenly host, - the armies of heaven - standing right there - not necessarily floating about in the sky, as impressive as that might have been, but standing like a huge crowd of people and praising God.  I can imagine that they all wanted to touch the earth that the Lord had chosen to live on, and sing their song - except that the text doesn't say that they sang either.  It says that they were saying, "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

Now we don't know if that was all that they said, or just part of it.  We don't know if they sang or spoke or shouted.  We don't know if these words were the summary of what they said, or if they said it over and over again, or sang Handel's Messiah a millennia and a half before Handel wrote it.  We don't know if this took two minutes of two hours.  The Bible doesn't say.  I gotta believe that it was longer, rather that shorter, but I just don't know.  But it was a multitude.  I would be like the stadium in Kansas City or St. Louis filled with people, gathered to cheer for their team.  It would have been loud, and long, and absolutely thrilling.  I remember going to the Metropolitan stadium to cheer for the Twins when they went to the World Series.  There was no game, just the fans cheering the fact that they made it that far.  The crowd was enormous and their energy and their zeal for the team was contagious.  I imagine that was the effect for these shepherds as those angels sang the song - or chanted the cheer, or whatever.

The praise of God was "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is well-pleased."  As Paul says, this is all to the praise of the glory of His grace.  God did something unexpected, something totally outside the imagination of man.  He became a man, in order to suffer for us all and die in our place, so that we could escape eternal death by the forgiveness of sins.  It is God's glory - and it is our peace.  We have no reason to fear God, in the sense of terror over what He might do to us - or what we have earned by sin against Him.  He has worked forgiveness, and announced peace.

The well-pleasing of which the angels spoke is the same as that spoken by God at the Baptism of Jesus and at His transfiguration.  That is what God gives us in forgiveness and through Jesus Christ.  We are counted as His own, righteous with the righteousness of Christ.  We are justified and counted well-pleasing to God.  And the angels praised God about that for that time on the hillsides around Bethlehem - if there were hills there, where the shepherds were keeping their flocks.  The angels sang or spoke that marvel of the working of God in love and in grace.

And we sing it in many forms today, echoing their song.  The news is still just as amazing and wonderful.  It is still intended for all people.  The news of the Incarnation of God, and the redemption of His people, and the free gift of righteousness, so that we might be well-pleasing to Him, and live with him forever.  That's a good song, and I believe that the Gloria in Excelsis was probably best sung by the original singers - the angels.

And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger."  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)



These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.



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