Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas: The Angels' Song

14  “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:14

The circumstances surrounding the song is extraordinary.  It starts with the message from Gabriel to Zechariah the priest that he will have a son to be named John.  John later on grows up to become John the Baptist, the one who prepares the way for the Lord.  Then the same angel Gabriel comes with a message to Mary, the virgin engaged to Joseph, that she will bear a child under the Holy Spirit and the child is to be named Jesus, who is the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world.  Soon after when Mary visits Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy.  Mary is with pregnant with Jesus already at that time.  It is an extraordinary visit that ends with Mary singing the most wonderful song of praise about salvation: the Magnificat.  Then John is born.  When John is born, his father Zechariah, prophesies about the salvation of God and how John would be a great prophet to prepare the way for the Lord.  Then time comes for Joseph and Mary to go back to the land of their fathers, the land of Judah, because they both are descendants of King David.  The decree from Caesar Augustus forces them to return to Bethlehem.  Then when they arrive in Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus.  But there is no room for them.  So Mary gives birth in a barn.  And she has to lay the baby in a manger.
In that night, a quiet night, the shepherds are guarding the sheep in the field.  The stars are accompanying the shepherds.  The night gets colder and darker.  As the shepherds fight their sleepiness, suddenly an angel appears in their midst.  When the angel appears, the glory of God shines around them.  Such magnificent display of the glory of God strikes terror in the heart of the shepherds.  They are terrified.  They are afraid.  Never in their life have they witnessed any of this.  But now, out of the blue they see what everyone in the world desires to see.  But it is only given to them to see.  A terrifying display yet a wonderful sight.  So they tremble, and they bow down to the ground.  Then the angel opens his mouth.  He carries a message, a declaration, an announcement that only the ears of the shepherds may hear that night.  A very important message from heaven, declared only to the lowest of the low.  A message from the King of all kings being channeled through the supernatural announcement by an extraordinary being of heaven, an angel of the Lord, to the outcast of the society, the shepherd.  A message of the birth of the Son of God.  An announcement that the Savior of the whole wide world has been born that night.  While everybody is still sleeping.  The kings, the princes, the governors, the Pharisees, the lawyers, the religious leaders, and all the important peoples are still sleeping soundly in that night, the most important person in the history of the world is born.
The shepherds’ heart is now calmed as soon as they hear about the news.  Their life will be changed forever.  God has heard their cry.  God has heard their prayer.  All their lives they have been suffering.  And now hope is bestowed upon them.  So they listen attentively to the angel.  Every detail of the message they listen.  Because they want to meet this Savior.  They want to run as quickly as possible to see with their own eyes the Savior that God has promised since a very long time ago, a prophecy through God’s prophets 700 hundred years ago.  But before they get up and run toward Bethlehem to find the baby wrapped in a cloth laid on a manger, another marvelous display is shown to them.  This time the angel is suddenly accompanied by the multitude of the heavenly host.  And together they sing the most soothing song of all time, the song of peace:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:14

Now the shepherds are totally at peace.  The glory of God in the highest brings peace to them.  They have found favor in the eyes of God.  So the glory of God that terrifies every soul, now brings the greatest peace in their heart.  Their heart is now filled with the greatest joy.  So they hasten to Bethlehem.  They are about to see with their own eyes the fulfillment of God’s promise.  They are about to see the Savior of the world.
            Brothers and sisters, this message from the angel and the multitude of heavenly host, what does it mean to us today?  It seems so far away.  It sounds ancient.  It’s been preached so many times over.  At times we feel dull.  We feel that this message carries no bearing on us anymore.  Our life is still filled with problems.  Yes Christmas is a time of joyous celebration.  The entire world is celebrating it, though for a different reason altogether.  It’s the spirit of the season.  Malls are giving their best discounts during this Christmas season.  All stores everywhere give their best discounts for any item we have so desired to buy.  Restaurants are full with people celebrating Christmas with families and friends.  Church programs are filled with Christmas themes.  It’s like almost every day in the month of December we encounter a Christmas event.  Christmas for kids, Christmas for youth, Christmas for young adult, Christmas for business fellowship, Christmas for women fellowship, Christmas for the married couple, Christmas for the elderly, Christmas for all.  Everything is Christmas in December.  But then comes January, everything is back to normal.  Holiday is over.  Christmas is over.  We still have to pay our bill.  We have to face again yet another year of problems, pain, and suffering.  Our sickness is not getting any better.  Our financial problem is not relieved.  Our strain relationships stay the way it was before Christmas.  Problems are just put on hold during the Christmas season.  We all go blind in that month.  Pretending there is no problem.  But as the Christmas spirit is gone, our problems come back to us with a vengeance.  And so what does the song mean to us?  What peace?  “There is no peace!” so we cry in our heart quietly.
            I imagine the shepherds go home after they see Jesus with their heart uplifted.  But a month passes by.  A year.  Ten years.  Twenty years.  Nothing has changed.  Their life has not changed.  They continue to be shepherds.  They continue to be despised by the society.  They continue to be the poorest of the poor.  They continue to be of no value in their everyday life.  The vivid display of glory has become a thing in the past.  It’s just a memory.  To others their story has just become a delusional effort to cheer their desperate heart.  They think the shepherds are hallucinating.  The Christmas spirit uplifts their heart in a little while, but soon they face the ground again.  Their road is still bumpy.  Their life has not improved.  We too understand the shepherds’ struggle, don’t we?  For it is very likely that the shepherds too ask: “What peace?”
            Soon Christmas is forgotten.  There is no more impact left.  The shepherds’ heart could return to be as empty as it was before the angel came to them that night.  Yeah we feel it too.  We are so hyped when Christmas is coming.  We are dreaming of improvement.  We are hoping things will get better.  Christmas is our hope that will change our dire circumstances.  We reflect on the glory of Christmas.  We meditate on all the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Christmas.  We want our life to turn into that extraordinary events that we hear over and over again whenever we approach Christmas.  We hear about it in Sunday school, in youth fellowship, in young adult fellowship, in business fellowship, in women fellowship, in married couple fellowship, in elderly fellowship, in every Sunday service during the month of December.  We want that extraordinary circumstance to become ours.  We want an angel of the Lord to visit us.  We want the Lord to give warmth in our heart.  We want the Lord to uplift our heart.  We want salvation.  We want immediate relief from all our troubles and sorrows.  But year after year there is no relief.  Year after year there is no peace.  Year after year there is no salvation.  So we despair.  Celebration like this is just a social responsibility.  It is just a routine we have to do.  But its meaning has long left us in the dust.  Isn’t it true for many of us?
            I bet the shepherds too are waiting for the moment of salvation that the angel told them.  It’s been so many years and the Roman occupation is getting heavier.  The taxes are going up.  The soldiers keep coming to their house taking whatever they find valuable.  They become poorer.  Their debt is piling up.  The tax collector sends his henchman to force them to pay.  They go home day after day to a smelly, dirty, and empty house.  Food is scarce.  There are days they don’t have anything to eat.  They have been wearing the same clothes over these years.  Twenty years have passed.  Thirty years have passed.  Despair.  Should they wait a bit longer?  Should they keep the faith?
            Aren’t those the same questions we ask?  Should we wait a bit longer for salvation from God to come?  Should we keep our faith?  We have prayed to God ever since we are sick, hoping for healing.  We have asked God for help ever since the financial crisis hit us.  We have waited for the Lord ever since our daughter or son left, for him or her to come back.  We have petitioned to the Lord to heal our broken relationship.  But there is no reply from heaven.  No angel is sent.  No problem is solved.  Our pastor can’t help.  Our counselor gives up.  Our friends don’t know what to do either.  No help.  Nothing.  We are left alone.  Nobody cares.  God doesn’t care too.  What peace?  So we walk to church every Sunday with a continuous sigh in our heart.  We come to church because it is our habit.  We are active in the church because we want to fit in.  But deep down we feel nothing anymore.
            The shepherds wait thirty years.  And then they start hearing something new.  A big change is coming.  John the Baptist proclaims repentance.  And many people standing in queue waiting to be baptized by John.  A big societal change is beginning.  The Jews are flocking to the Jordan River.  They listen to John.  They give themselves to be transformed.  They go home as different people.  Those who used to steal, now steal no more.  Those who used to bully others, now bully no more.  Those who used to lie, now lie no more.  So the shepherds too go to the Jordan River to be baptized.  One day John sees Jesus, and he says that this is the Savior of the world!  The shepherds remember the night the angel came to them.  The baby in the manger is now a grown up.  So they are curious as to what Jesus is going to do.  They follow him.  And true, they witness with their own eyes the feeding of the thousands, and that the blind see, the mute talk, the deaf hear, the leper is cleansed, the limp walk again, the sick healed, and the dead raised.  Oh this is it.  This is salvation.  They have not understood the meaning of the angel’s message before.  Now they see the proofs.  But they have more yet to see.
            Three years from then, they witness the Son of God, the baby in the manger who has grown up to be a fine man, a miracle worker, nailed to the cross without any crime ever committed.  Their uplifted heart sinks again looking at the dead body of the Savior of the world.  This cannot be the end, they think.  We thought the angel’s message was just an empty message.  But we waited 30 years.  And we have witnessed extraordinary things from Jesus.  This must not be the end.  So they keep their faith.  They wait a little bit longer.  Only three days later, they now have truly seen the proof of the true salvation from God.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  And He has appeared to His disciples.  Following the One who conquers death, who can resist?  They now have a full blown understanding of salvation.  It is not about food on the table.  It is not about getting rich.  It is not about being healed from our infirmities.  It is not about being released from the Roman occupation.  But it is being saved from sin.  It is being saved from the eternal death.  Their eyes are now opened so wide, that they repeat the song of the multitude of the heavenly host:

14  “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:14

Indeed, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom He is pleased.  And they have found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  And peace reigns in their heart once again.  And this time it is forever.  Even with all the problems of this temporary life that they are still having, their heart is finally at peace.  Because they have seen the true salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            Brothers and sisters, will we wait for the Lord?  Will we keep the faith?  Will we wait a bit longer?  Yes our problems might not be solved in our lifetime.  But haven’t we witnessed the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?  We do not need to wait thirty years in limbo like the shepherds.  Ever since we become Christians we have been told about the true salvation in Christ.  And salvation has been ours ever since we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  But all of us are to wait the glorious return of our Lord.  When He returns, all our troubles will be no more.  No sadness.  No pain.  No suffering.
            Let me tell you the story of Joni Eareckson Tada.  When she was 18 she had a terrible accident that caused her to be paralyzed from the neck down.  At the age of 18 when life finally opened up many opportunities, Joni had to be confined on her bed and wheelchair.  She could not do what she had wanted to do.  All her dreams were shattered.  For two years she could not accept her condition.  She was mad.  She had wanted to die.  But she did not.  Then she began accepting God’s sovereignty over her life.  She began her spiritual journey through severe difficulties.  She waited patiently for the Lord.  One day, more than thirty years later, she was invited to speak to thousands of students in a university.  She came out of the backstage on her wheelchair.  And she shared an incredible self-testimony.  She said: “I thank God for giving me this paralysis condition.  Without it I won’t be who I am today.”  Joni’s faith grew amazingly in the midst of persistent difficulties.  Her condition she will bring to the grave with her.  But she said that even though her body is severely limited, her faith has grown mature and stronger.  With that testimony Joni strengthened the faith of many students that day who had thought of leaving the faith.  And today Joni had strengthened the faiths of so many who ever thought of leaving the faith.  Joni, living a life that many would deem very unfortunate and would be excused if she chose the assisted suicide route, yet she persists in living her “unfortunate” life for the Lord.  And through her life, many have been blessed abundantly.  Joni finds her peace in Christ Jesus and God is glorified in the highest.
            Brothers and sisters, once again, I ask: “Will you wait for the Lord?  Will you keep your faith?”  Joni waits for the Lord.  The shepherds wait for the Lord.  In this Christmas season, remember that as God is glorified in the highest, on earth He bestows his eternal peace through His Son Jesus Christ.  That song of the multitude of the heavenly host rings true forever and ever.  May it also ring as a song of peace in our heart starting today and until Jesus returns in the end time.  Amen.

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