Why the Angels Sang --- a Christmas Sermon
by Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.
Probably, it was just another ordinary, nippy night in old Judea. Bored shepherds huddled in their blankets, trading stories. Boys grew old fast on those hills. Men moved slowly, every joint and muscle feeling the ache of thousands of damp nights, always waiting for the dawn. An endless, dreary cycle, generation after generation--little or no hope that the future would be any different. Just a gloomy picture no matter how old one was.
But, for some time before that nippy night, nine months really, far off at the center of the universe----angels had been on special alert. From galaxy to galaxy, the angels passed the question: "Where is He? Where's Our Lord?" Faster than the speed of light, inhabitants on billions of worlds were contacted, "Have you seen the Lord?" "No, He's not here. Where is He?"
Streaking through and past hundreds of billions of island universes, down past Andromeda with its 100 billion suns like our own--always asking the same questions, always the same answers: "No, He's not here. Where is He?"
But Gabriel went on, saying to his colleagues, "Come with me. Come and see." Heading now for Andromeda's nearest neighbor, more than 100 billion light-years still to go, perhaps through the open space in Orion, they sped through our own Milky Way system, with its 100 billion stars, each star with probably its own solar system.
Until they came to a special star, not very large as stars go, but to a star called the Sun, that controlled the fate of 9 planets. Still they had millions of miles to go. But angels travel very fast, you know, faster than sound, faster than light, and on that first Christmas they had an especially urgent mission--as Gabriel led them to Planet Earth.
And then they paused, hovering in silence above a little Jewish town called Bethlehem--for Mary was in labor. Nothing like this had ever happened before in all the universe. Could all this be true, the angels asked? "Their Lord of the universe, here on a little planet called Earth, utterly dependent upon a Jewish teenager?"
With wonder and respect, the angels waited. And then it happened! With the baby's first cry, those angels released the emotions of the universe--and they sang over Bethlehem. The lonely shepherds heard them first.
As Phillips translated it: "Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them:
'Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day in David's town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.' And in a flash there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of Heaven, praising God saying: 'Glory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!'"
Why did the angels sing--perhaps as they had not sung since the creation of this world? Awesome and compelling words wrapped up in their song. What really happened in that Bethlehem stable that brought the angels so close to human beings on that first Christmas?
The angels sang because they knew something this world had yet to learn. First, they sang because they knew this Baby born in Bethlehem was their Lord who had become man. Not just God play-acting in human flesh, but God who had truly become a human being. Sensing something of His awesome mission, the angels knew that all this was for everyone, everywhere--not only on Planet Earth but from world to world, across the billions of galaxies of God's wonderful universe. Almost mysteriously, they knew, even as unfallen beings, that their own future would now become more secure.
But O how He came! Not as a heavenly prince, cuddled in warm, soft blankets, hovered over by a team of imperial pediatricians and three shifts of nurses; not as a dazzling angel compelling everyone's attention; not even as a superstar teacher who would galvanize the respect and affection of both young and old.
No--He came as a baby, as every other helpless and dependent child has entered this world, with all the liabilities and weaknesses of His Jewish heredity. And if anyone wonders if He got any special breaks, take another look at who His ancestors were! His genetic stream was as polluted as anyone ever born.
No--and we must back up--He did not come even as a handsome little boy as one would see through the nursery window at Auburn Faith Hospital. Even before Bethlehem, in Nazareth many months before, he had come as a fetus, for nine months, the Lord of the Universe, inside a dark womb, living off Mary's blood, just floating plasma too small for human eyes to see--as close to non-being as even God could get.
Hard to believe that the Creator of our universe would imprison Himself within His own creation. And not just for nine months, nor for only 33 years! The immensity of Christmas is that Jesus forever encased Himself within time and space, which He, Himself had created! As Inventor, He willingly locked Himself within His own machine forever! What kind of commitment is this?
Hard to believe that the Lord of Creation, who walked among the stars and whirled new universes into their orbits, would be born a helpless babe and be laid in a smelly goat manger. But what is hardest to believe is that He loved us so much that He was willing to risk all His divine prerogatives, even His own future, as He permitted Himself "to meet life's perils in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss." DA:49.
Why did He do it? With all the various options He had, why did He come to Bethlehem, an obscure Jewish village, and not to Jerusalem or Athens or Rome, where His birth would surely hit the front page? Why didn't He, at least, give Himself the advantage of taking Adam's unscarred body and brain, unencumbered with the savage results of sin?
Ah, that leads us to the second reason why the angels sang over Bethlehem: The angels knew what was at stake for God to become a truly human being They knew that the time had come for God to tell His side of the story.
For too long, they had been involved in a cosmic controversy that had wrenched the universe. For too long they had listened to the ridicule and taunts of their former associates who had fallen for the guile and lies of Lucifer, the master rebel--the expert at deception and dissembling.
For too long they had heard the charge that God could not be trusted--that God was unfair, arbitrary and severe. Too long they had stood by as Lucifer, now Satan, accused God of selfishness, and ego-trips, in His demands for obedience from all created beings. For too long they heard the charges that God would not Himself exercise the self-denial He required from all His created beings.
For too long these charges seemed so believable, because the evidence for Satan's charges seemed everywhere. Planet Earth was filled with religious people who proved that God had made laws that created beings could not keep; or, if they tried, they would be miserable in their bondage.
For long centuries, the angels had watched this dismal record pile up. It looked as if Satan were right--what God expected of men and women apparently was impossible. And worse, Satan seemed even right about Gods true motives. Behind all that love mask, Satan said, was an arbitrary tyrant who one day will zap all those who didn't knuckle under--whenever He feels He has had enough of their disobedience.
After all, Satan and one-third of their own comrades disagreed with Him and look what happened to them! Pow! Out they go!
And remember Adam and Eve--just a small infraction and look what happened to them? Out you go! And that terrible Flood! Zap! And those patriotic Egyptians in the Red Sea! Pow!
Was sin really all that bad? What was God really like? Was God right about the consequences of sin? Who could angels trust?
So to Bethlehem and that baby boy. Now the glad-hearted angels knew that the tide of battle was about to turn. The dramatic moment had arrived when God would put Himself on the line. Satan had had his time and opportunity to prove his point while God waited--patiently and sadly.
But now the time had come for God Himself to prove Satan wrong and to say what was right about Himself and the way He ran the universe. And beside all that, He came to give hope to humanity awash in their self-inflicted wounds.
If you were an angel, knowing all this, wouldn't you have had something to sing about? And to wonder about?
This leads us to the third reason why the angels sang over Bethlehem: They knew that Jesus was not fighting a sham battle, nor would He possess advantages unavailable to the rest of the babies born 2000 years ago, or at any time before or since.
Paul wrote in Hebrews 2 that our Bethlehem baby entered the human race, on that first Christmas, after sin had done its work for more than 4000 years. In fact, Paul said that this Bethlehem baby "had to be made like his brethren in every respect." (2:17, RSV).
The angels knew something very important for the security of the universe was happening when God became a truly human being, "in every respect."
Think of it! The most wonderful Person you have ever known, the One who had been patiently bearing a bad press, taking a bum rap for thousands of years, now committing Himself to being a mere man on a distant Planet, away off in a corner of the universe, far from the glories of heaven? How can this be?
And to know that He would not do all this as a reverse astronaut in a space-suit, shielded from earth's sinful environment. He would live on earth as all children have to live, with no advantages not available to us. Some risk! The stakes were very high: He would attempt to prove Satan wrong about God and man on center stage, in the full glare of fallen and unfallen beings. If He failed, the whole universe would never again be the same. It would be a universe without hope, without a song.
To put it simply, God placed His honor on the line on that first Christmas in that little town of Bethlehem. He did not come to prove that God could keep His own laws but that men and women could--even fallen men and women--when connected with Him, as He intended that connection to remain when He created them.
And He did not come to be honored for whom He was. He came to show us how to live in the land of the enemy. Why? To prove Satan wrong, that God was fair, that the way He ran the universe was just, and that He was as self-denying as He wanted His creation to be.
More than to live--He came to die a shameful death, a profound death, more than the sleep of the tomb. His death would become the rallying cry and center of all hope for ages to come. His death would, in some profound way, settle for all time to come, how dreadful the wages of sin are--in such a way that no man or woman will ever have to pay His own debt.
And that is what Christmas means. If we want a simple definition: Christmas remembers the time when God placed Himself on the line for you and me.
What else did the angels sing about? They sang because they knew what was happening was not merely theology to discuss. God was not merely doing something for sin-tossed men and women, He was going to do something in and through them as well.
Jesus was not only to proclaim "good news." He Himself was "good news." He came to show boys and girls, teenagers, fathers and mothers, and all men and women everywhere how to live nobly, and joyfully, and graciously in the land of the enemy.
The angels knew that the world would soon see a teenager face up to the ridicule of peer pressure and the pain of being scorned when His best motives were misunderstood.. Why? So that every young man and woman ever since would know that Jesus understands exactly where they are at, and will give strength when the crowd, even parents, invites them to walk a less-disciplined road.
The angels knew that Jesus would be a healthy, charming young man who would possess all the God-given desires for family and for female companionship as any vigorous, young man would feel. But, they knew that He would choose daily to walk His straight and lonely path, in spite of his human desires, winning the the confidence and trust of both men and women, the careless as well as the noble. Why? So that every young man and woman ever after would know that virtue is possible and desirable and attainable--when they too put the Word of God in their hearts.
The angels knew Jesus would be a man that coarse fishermen and cultured noblemen could call a friend, a man who brought healing to those who hurt, courage to those who had lost hope --all this in only 33 years!
But those short 33 years have cast forth a light that brightens my path and yours today. Not only Galilee and Jerusalem were warmed by that light.
Because the angels sang over Bethlehem, I can sing today. Whenever I wonder about the future, I hear Him say: "Let not your heart be troubled. . .. Believe in Me. . . . I am preparing a place for you."
Whenever I am tempted to take shortcuts, I hear: "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things will be added unto you."
Whenever I grow weary and feel misunderstood, I hear: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
Whenever I see my friends and loved ones pushed to the limit, when their bodies give out and they cry out with pain and disappointment, I hear Jesus say to them and to me: "I will not leave you desolate, I will come to you." "No one is able to snatch you out of my Father's hand." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And so will you, like Jesus, hang on a little longer.
O those angels had much to sing about on that first Christmas! They knew this baby was not another Moses, or Elijah, but God Himself. They knew that the way He came had everything to do with why He came. They sang because they knew that the awful controversy that had divided the universe for so long was taking a dramatic turn on the first Christmas--that somehow Bethlehem was the beginning of the end for Satan. And the end of the beginning for all of us.
Because angels sang over Bethlehem, so we too can sing today and every day until He returns!
Copyright © 2000 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved.
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