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Reasons to Celebrate
Something extraordinary was happening. Something unique was taking place. Here we are expected to realise that something ever so special was occurring. This event without precedent is meant to make us stop and think, to stop and take note, to stop and join in!
What on earth am I talking about?
Well come with me and I will tell you.
An Angelic Choir
In order to help you appreciate the enormity of it all I want us to spend a few minutes thinking about what Billy Graham has called God’s Secret Agents, the angels.
The word angel is used often in the Bible – some 300 times. You don’t have to read very far before you find the first time mention of an angel – it comes in just the third chapter of the Bible and the last mention comes in the very last chapter.
As God’s Secret Agents angels function are spirits which are actively involved in divine service. An important part of their service is to help those who have been chosen by God to inherit his salvation.
Sometimes they are easily identified by those to whom they come – their normal uniform seems to consist of clothes which are dazzlingly white or else they are surrounded with exceedingly bright light. Sometimes however they appear in plain clothes as it were and are indistinguishable from the men they come to serve.
Almost invariably the angels we read of in the Bible when they are operating on earth they do so in ones or twos. When we do read of large numbers of angels they are usually to be found in heaven, in God’s immediate and special presence.
And this is true throughout the Bible.
Isaiah the prophet had an amazing vision when he saw the LORD high and lifted up – the LORD was accompanied by a class of angels who called out to one another:
Is.6:3 "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
The less well-
1Ki.22:19 "I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left;"
The apostle John had a series of extraordinary visions which he recorded in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. He too saw (or rather heard) angels in the presence of God:
Rev.5:11 "Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,"
Now the point I am making is this: when angels do appear, in numbers greater than one or two, they are nearly always found in God’s immediate presence.
And on that night in the fields outside Bethlehem that is not at all what we find. Something unusual is happening; something remarkable is taking place.
Yes, the scene begins with a solitary angel who had come from heaven conveying his message of good news to the shepherds but then he is joined by a great company of angels! This is not usual, this is completely out of the ordinary and the mere fact of the matter tells us that something very special indeed is taking place! We are meant to sit up and take notice.
What the Angelic Choir is Doing
As soon as the angel of the Lord has finished telling the shepherds all about the baby who has been born in Bethlehem, the baby who has come to be the Saviour, the baby who is identified as Christ, the Lord, then suddenly he is joined by "a multitude of the heavenly host".
It is as though that message, the wonderful content of that message, is the trigger that causes then to assemble above the fields outside Bethlehem.
But why have they come? What are they there for?
According to our text they have gathered in order to make some more verbal declarations:
"praising God and saying"
Then the text goes on to tell us just what it was they were saying.
It all sounds so simple and straightforward doesn’t it? But wait a minute. If this multitude were praising God why had they left heaven to do it? Heaven was the usual place for this sort of angelic activity why the change now?
The answer is not complicated. While the praise of the angels was offered to Almighty God there was another audience that was being targeted: the shepherds.
People of earth, represented by these ordinary shepherds, needed to realise that what God was accomplishing with the birth of this remarkable baby in Bethlehem was astonishing and worthy of the highest praise imaginable!
"Glory to God is the highest"
That was what this choir of angels was declaring. Yes, glory to God in the highest as his eternal Son leaves that "glory in the highest" and humbly stoops so low to be born in such straightened circumstances, to be born to a poor couple and to born in a stable!
It is God putting his careful plan of salvation into active mode. The angelic reaction of praise is the only one that is appropriate.
Here is the Holy God who has been offended by the unholy behaviour of every man woman and child who has ever lived upon the face of the earth now choosing to enter the world he had made in order to rescue lost sinners. Why should he do so? No-
The angels knew this and they praised God for it all! Elsewhere in the Bible we are told that the angels are so intrigued by the salvation plan that God has purposed to carry out that we are told in picturesque language that they are standing as it were on tiptoe trying to get a better look at what God has planned for sinners like us.
And so they praised God for it all in the presence of those shepherds so that those shepherds (and us with them) might be brought to consider the wonders of God’s love and kindness. Those shepherds (and us with them) now know how we too ought to respond to this great and generous God – with fervent, heart-
If the angels could get so worked up about a salvation that didn’t directly concern them then surely we who are called upon to be the full beneficiaries of it ought to be enthusiastic about it too!
But we haven’t done with our text just yet. The angels praised God and their praise was an informed praise. They didn’t just sing God is great they went on to explain why they were singing at this time.
"on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased"
God was to be praised because though the birth of the baby at Bethlehem, through the coming of the Saviour, God was offering peace terms to the enemy rebels that make up the human race.
The birth of Jesus signals the first step in the final stages of God’s plan of salvation. He came that peace might be established between heaven and earth, that peace might be experienced between God and men!
The song of praise that the angels sang that night was occasioned by the birth of the Saviour. Their song celebrated God’s generosity and grace. Salvation is brought from heaven to earth as the gift of God and how grateful we should be. The angels don’t tell the shepherds that they have to do lots of different things in order to try to make God look favourably upon them.
The amazing thing is that it is all the other way round!! God acts and freely offers the fruit of his salvation but men and women so often refuse to look favourably upon his generosity.
It’s too good to be true, we think, there must be some catch. And instead of receiving God’s gift we think we can do better by relying upon our own paltry efforts. This Christmas many of us will give gifts to our friends or to family members – we will want our gifts to be appreciated, we will probably expect to be thanked but we won’t expect to be paid for them! Our gifts when properly given are expressions of our love/friendship they are not some sales pitch.
When God gave his Son he gave us a love-
The angels as they celebrate God in the presence of the shepherds are helping the shepherds appreciate just how special and just how precious this gift really is.
The shepherds were moved by it all. When the heavenly host had finished their concert of praise the shepherds didn’t simply go back to their sheep and to what had occupied theml before. No, they went off to see for themselves. They went off taking heed of what they had been told about.
May this be our own reaction to the message of the greatness of God, the greatness of his salvation plan, the greatness of his Son the Saviour. May none of us miss out on this peace that God would have us enjoy with him as Jesus saves us from our sins when we call out to him to save us.
And if this is truly our experience then may our song be similar to that of the angels "Glory to God in the highest!"