Luke 2:8-20 4th Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 21 December 2014
Let’s remember where we have been in Advent. Isaiah sang a song of comfort, giving us hope, encouraging us to prepare the way of the Lord. Zechariah sang a song of peace, urging us to trust in the dawning mercy of the Lord to bring light to our darkness. Mary and Elizabeth sang a songs of joy about their boys, inviting us to embody the Holy Spirit who can give birth to a new creation in us, and today, the multitude of angels sing a song of praise, leading us to glorify God for the supreme gift of love, a Savior.
The first announcement of the birth of a Savior for the world comes to the ordinary of society, shepherds, while they were doing ordinary work. It’s like a angel of the Lord bringing the message to a group of women working for a cleaning service, cleaning offices in the night or to a yard maintenance crew as they trim the hedges. This multitude of angels is more dramatic than a single person having a dream or getting a vision of an angel, as in the case of Zechariah, Mary or Joseph. This is group of shepherds all seeing heavenly beings at the same. Wow! What an experience.
Let’s hear now the story of the angels in their visitation with the Shepherds. As I read, I invite you to notice the word “Glory” which occurs three times. “Glory, glory, glorifying.” I believe in that one word, the message of Christmas love is summarized. It is the message of the angels. It is the response of the shepherds. It is our primary purpose in life, as the often quoted Westminster Catechism says, “Our chief aim, our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.”
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (NRSV)
To glorify is to lift up high, to honor, to worship, to praise extravagantly. The Greek word is Doxa, from which our comes our word “Doxology” “Angels We Have Heard on High” does with music what doxa means. It goes on extravagantly Glo-o-o-ria. In Handel’s Messiah, we hear “And the glory, the glory of the Lord.” sung by one part and then another.
In glorifying God there is an unreserved, unabashed celebration and honoring God’s goodness. What an amazing story! God, the one whose glory could not be viewed without perishing, according to many Old Testament stories ,has now been born as one of us. The poet John Donne says it so beautifully in so few words. I have made his words inclusive:
Twas much that we were made like God before,
But that God should be like us, much more.
That the glory of God could enter our humanity and be completely one with us is the beauty of our Christian faith. No other faith affirms such an amazing truth.
This remarkable gift has changed the world, and lowly shepherds are the first to hear. The glory of the Lord descends upon them and they were scared to death, sore afraid, terrified.
This glory is such a wonder to behold it is frightening. But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid, for we bring good news. This good news will produce great joy for all the people.” This gift is for the joy of all. This gift is for you. “To YOU is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” And they are given the sign – a baby will be wrapped up and lying in a feeding trough.
And with the utterance of this great news comes a whole multitude of angels who are praising God and saying, “Glory to God” “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.” Glory to God for this love, this peace.
Glory to God issues in peace on earth. Glory to God is not just for you and me to revel in God’s love. That’s the triumphalism that none of us can stomach. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. Worship leads to mission. We come in to praise. We go out to serve.
Let’s reflect on what that means in our everyday lives. If we are glorifying God with our whole being, then we are treating all who are created in God’s image with loving respect. Even when we believe someone has been grossly mistreated, we do not react in violence but non-violent protest. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. Peace-filled relationships.
Like the grave-digger in Pakistan who is poor himself, needing to feed his own eight children, but he refused to take any money for all the graves of children from the school massacre there. He said he never cries when he digs graves. It is what he does, but this time, with so many children dead, he had to weep.
If we are glorifying God, then we cannot be selfish, putting ourselves in the glory position. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. Not self-centered power struggles. Ethics in the corporate world and in the church.
If we are glorifying God, then we cannot place undue expectations on other people, thinking that they can or should meet all our needs, which is glorifying them, instead of God. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. Peace in our relationships with those closest to us.
If we are glorifying God then we cannot be overly concerned with dress or appearance. We do not glorify food, drink, or clothing. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. Inner peace which is able to embrace both self and others.
Glorifying God means that all physical pleasures are submitted to God, such that we are not glorifying bodily pleasures, but God. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. No addictions to sex, drugs and alcohol. No lust without loving commitment.
If we are glorifying God, then we cannot be consumed with buying things and securing our own future, because that would be glorifying wealth and possessions. Glory to God leads to peace on earth. No futile striving for materialistic gain.
Glorifying God means that our work – whether at home or at office – is not climbing a ladder to bring glory to self. Glorifying God means a tamed competitive spirit. Not priding self on being the most successful in work, school, or in home life, or even the most spiritual one at church.
Glorifying God means that I ultimately relinquish the right to understand why bad things happen. O sure, we struggle with it, but in the end, we do what the Burkholders will surely find a way to do – find peace in knowing that Justin’s shortened life still had meaning and purpose.
And that this death, while a nightmare for them, is still contained in the larger sovereignty of God who comes to bring light to our darkness. While we don’t understand why it happened, we don’t blame God, but we find a way in the end, to trust God even in its deep sadness.
C.S Lewis once said something like this, “A person can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship [God] than a [any one of us] can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of [our room]”
God’s glory is love come down to earth. Angels, extraordinary beings say “Glory to God.” Shepherds, extremely ordinary people say “Glory to God.” We also say “Glory to God” for this amazing gift of love. We live glory to God by living in genuine, humble life-giving love, as he did.
Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die,
Born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Back in 1789 Charles Wesley wrote a hymn, entitled “Hark how all the welkin ring!” That’s right welkin – an old word that means the heavens. The heavens are ringing with God’s glorious love. Love has come a light in the darkness. Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies. See all heaven has come to proclaim it; hear how song of joy arises; Love! Love! Born unto you, a Savior. Love! Love! Glory to God on high.