For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Songs of Christmas: Part Three

When it comes to singing songs, we don’t always get the words right, do we?  A lot of times it’s because we’re not really listening.  You’ve probably read some of these misheard hymn lines before; things like:

-“Have a little chocolate, Jesus” instead of “have a little talk with Jesus”

-“Bringin’ in the sheets!” instead of Bringin’ in the Sheaves.  I guess they thought it had something to do with laundry.

-One little boy sang Amazing Grace and thought that God had “saved a wrench like me."  Not sure what that would even mean.

-Another child must have been hungry as they sang the great old hymn Up from The Grave He Arose.  Instead of Low in the grave He lay, they sang out “Low in the gravy lay.”

-And that well known version of the Christmas favorite, Silent Night, where the kids are hungry for some heavenly peas.

We laugh at those, but the truth is, often the adults are just as guilty as the youngsters of not really listening.  How often do we sing songs in church like we’re on auto pilot?  We’re not really thinking of the words.  We either just blindly read what’s on the page or we let them roll out from memory without ever really stopping and concentrating on the words we sing.

Colossians 3:16 gives us the impression that as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God, that part of the reason we do that is to teach, and encourage and to admonish one another.  That means we need to take time to listen to the words we sing and fully grasp the message being given.  Our singing is a part of the ministry of the Word, just as the preaching and teaching is.

In this next post concerning the songs of Christmas that Luke records for us in the opening chapters of his gospel account, we come to the song of the angels.  (Technically it says the angels “said”, but we all like to think they were singing).  Like any other song of praise, or any other announcement for that matter, we ought to carefully consider what is being said.   It’s just a short song, but that doesn’t make it any less significant.  

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)

This is a significant song for many reasons, not the least of which is the subject of the song and those who are singing it.  Any song about Christ as sung by angels ought to get our attention.  And once it has our attention, we ought to reflect on the meaning and message of the song.  Let me suggest three things in particular that this song of the angels tells us about the birth of Christ that we are celebrating at this time of year.

I. It leads to PRAISE TO GOD.  The first words of the song make it plain that this birth announcement is the bring praise to God.  Glory to God in the highest.

The testimony of Scripture is that all of creation has as its goal and purpose the glory of God. He created everything for His own glory. Everything that exists has its existence from God and for God. Romans 11:36 says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”  All things are to declare and proclaim His majesty and supremacy and greatness and power.

The angels tell us that this event is no different.  This birth, this Savior who is born, God taking on flesh, causes them to sing Glory to God.  Like everything else God is doing and has done, like everything else in life, this is all about God and His glory. Everything about God that is worthy of our giving Him adoration and praise is wrapped up in this one event.  Christ, in fact, is the centerpiece of God’s plan for the ages.  From before the foundations of the world, it was all about Christ.  Everything in the world today is about Christ.  All that will happen from now and all through eternity is about Christ and His glory.  It’s all about Him.  All glory to God.
II. We see that this birth also leads to PLEASURE IN HEAVEN.  The angels give glory to God in the highest, which can not only refer to the highest praise, but glory in the highest place, in heaven.  You can almost sense the angels’ joy as they make the announcement, and certainly you can see it in their praise and worship as a result. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever really considered the aspect of the angel’s rejoicing in our salvation before.  It’s worth taking time to consider because on the one hand, these angels are not in need of redemption.  They are perfectly obedient, and you might think they would look down on humanity and our sin and rebellion.  Yet instead, they rejoice in our redemption.

But this song of the angels could possibly also refer to the pleasure of God Himself.  Jesus said there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels when His children repent; not specifically that the angels alone rejoice.  And who is in the presence of the angels but God Himself.  Perhaps the joy expressed is His.

King James says, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  But the ESV I’ve quoted above is a better rendering: “peace among those with whom he is pleased.  Again, it may be that the pleasure and joy in heaven is not just the angels’, but it may be a reflection of God’s own joy at what He’s doing. Certainly God is pleased at the work of His hands.  Certainly He is pleased at seeing the outworking of His eternal plan.  And He is ultimately pleased at this, the centerpiece of that plan.  Just as He is divinely pleased when each of His children comes to Him in repentance and faith; made possible by the birth and later death and resurrection of this His Son. So whether we’re speaking of the joy of God, or the joy of His angels, it’s worth noting that this event brings pleasure in the highest, not just on earth.  Yet, it does affect earth…

III. This announced birth is said to bring PEACE ON EARTH.  From our perspective, perhaps the best news of all is that the Savior born on that night will bring peace on earth. 

Of course, we have to define that, don’t we?  Because as we look around the world and around our nation, we see anything but peace.  The economy is as unstable as it’s been in decades, causing folks to be stressed and frightened.  The most recent national elections showed clearly just how divided our nation is on so many issues.  Not to mention the violence that continues to run rampant not only in our big cities, but closer and closer to where we live all the time. Even within our homes we find fighting and squabbling.  Husbands and wives, children and parents, struggling just to get along sometimes.  And it’s been that way since we left the garden.  If Jesus truly came to bring peace on earth two thousand years ago, why are we still in this predicament?

Because that’s not the kind of peace we’re talking about, is it?  Certainly, one day Christ will return and will finally put an end to all war and all struggling and all stress and all pain and suffering.  But in the meantime, He brings peace of another kind.  In fact, it’s peace that’s even more significant that any of those.

What we often forget is that mankind is at war with God.  Since sin first entered this world, there has been a conflict going on.  A war of rebellion is which we are willing participants.  Scripture says that apart from Christ, we are enemies to God with an inability to please Him, to glorify Him.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Our greatest need is to find an end to that conflict; to find peace with God; to find reconciliation between God and man.  And Christ is that peace.  When the angels sang of peace on earth, in one sense they were simply speaking of the Christ Himself.  The savior who is born is himself peace on earth.  He is the Prince of Peace, the author of peace and the mediator of peace between God and man.

Jesus is our peace.  He has made peace possible with God through his shed blood on the cross.  The angels knew that what the reason for the incarnation.  They knew what God was planning, or at least part of it.  And so they sang with all their angelic being: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” And should angels sing, while we keep silent?  They sang though salvation would always be somewhat of a mystery to them, something they will never experience.  How much more should we sing, who experience the salvation that babe born in a manger would bring.

The father of English Hymnody, Isaac Watts, summed it up in these lines:
Thus Gabriel sang, and straight around The heav’nly armies throng;
They tune their harps to a lofty sound, And thus conclude the song:
“Glory to God that reigns above! Let peace surround the earth!
Mortals shall know their Maker’s love, At their Redeemer’s birth.”
Lord, and shall angels have their songs, And men no tunes to raise?
O may we lose our useless tongues When they forget to praise.
Glory to God that reigns above, That pitied us forlorn;
We join to sing our Maker’s love, For there’s a Savior born.

I pray that you would know the joy and pleasure of this song.  And I pray that who have a real and saving knowledge of the Savior born in Bethlehem, we would lift our voices to sing His praises along with the angels

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