Today we celebratethe second Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church year. This year we will be reflecting on People Around the Manger. We will continue our Advent series by reflecting on Luke 2:1-20 The Angels—Heaven and Earth Rejoices. While shepherds watch over the flocks in the dark of the night, they are visited by an angel, who tells them that the glorious news that the Messiah has come! After telling the shepherds the good news, the angel is joined by a company of angels who praise and glorify God, celebrating the wonderful news that the Saviour of the world has come, God has fulfilled his promise of a Messiah who will save his people, even if he’s a baby in a manger right now. The shepherds rush to see this Messiah child and return rejoicing and praising God for his faithfulness and celebrating the arrival of the promised Messiah!
The Angels: Heaven Rejoices
As we come closer to Christmas, we’re approaching the manger with those most closely associated with the Christmas story. Last week we reflected on the shepherds and Jesus as the Good Shepherd this morning we’re reflecting on the angels who appeared to the shepherds and the praise the angels offer because Jesus has come. One writer defines praise as "the natural response of believers to God at all times and in all places, involving adoration in music and song." The response of both angels and shepherds is to praise God for the gift of Jesus, for his faithfulness in keeping his promises to send a saviour. Into the brokenness and hurt in the world, God shines the Gospel news that the Lord has come to change things and bring peace on earth, to bring hope that things can be different.
As the shepherds go about their work, watching over the sheep in the fields just outside of Bethlehem at night, they're visited by an angel of the Lord who suddenly appears in the night sky with a message for them. "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Messiah, the Lord." This is some pretty amazing news and it's announced from the heavens, God is making sure the good news gets out!
The promised Messiah has come! The angel's words are powerful, filled with hope. They're powerful because of the news they bring, the promised saviour is here. But Luke is also setting up a challenge here, the same challenge Jesus later gives to the people; Luke’s telling his readers that they need to choose who they will accept as their lord and saviour. The titles the angel uses are the same titles Caesar Augustus has given himself; lord and saviour. In Priene, in the area of Turkey, archeologists have found an inscription concerning the birth of Caesar Augustus, "the birth date of our God has signaled the beginning of good news for the world." Sound familiar? Luke is sticking it right on your face, who is your lord, your saviour? Think about it? Is Jesus really your Lord and Saviour?
The good news the angel brings leads other angels to show up and praise God, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests." Imagine this scene in your mind; the night sky filled with angels and glory of the Lord shining over everything and praise to God ringing through the meadow while the shepherds watch in amazement and awe. This rejoicing isn't limited to this field just outside of Bethlehem, the highest heavens, the throne room of God is rejoicing with the shepherds, and with us because of what God has just done, something creation could never have imagined, something so unexpected that the only response is praise. Why praise? God has just become human, has joined the human race being born a human child of a human woman. God is not just visiting his people, he has moved into the neighbourhood, as Eugene Peterson writes, and made his home among his people; the promised Messiah has come!
Worship’s all about God, not about you or me. Worship happens more often outside of the sanctuary because that's where our lives happen and where the Spirit actively reaching out into our world. There are some fantastic pictures of worship in the Bible that are spontaneous because they come from the heart. Hear how one writer describes a joy-filled worship scene, "More than 2,500 years ago, in the bright of day, somewhere in a large Middle Eastern city, the king of a small nation strips down to his underclothes during a religious ceremony and dances to the rhythms of tambourines, castanets and cymbals punctuated by the melody of lyres, harps and other guitarlike instruments. He celebrates his God, shouting and singing words of exaltation, singing possibly the same songs he had written years earlier as a nomadic sheep herder, where his devotion was worked out in the sweat and stench of his servant situation." She's writing about King David who's worshipping God because the ark’s coming to the temple. He may have been singing Psalm 149, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise with the godly ones. Let Israel be glad in their Maker; let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing; let them sing praises to him with all types of musical instruments.”
Revelation 4 describes the praise happening in heaven’s throne room, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” This worship now flows out of the throne room of heaven into the fields outside of Bethlehem.
Don't limit your praise just for a baby in a manger, praise God for the common things of life; for eyes that see the stars in the night sky and a baby in a manger, for mouths that are able to sing and shout out praise to God and to share your praise with others. Praise God for the food you eat, the clothes you wear, for the place you call home, for family and friends, for a church family and a community of people who deeply care about each other. Praise God for being able to hear the music we play to sing our praises, for the gifts of those who share their gift of music and praise with us. praise God even in the hard times because Jesus is with us through it all and he can use our hard times to bring encouragement and blessing when we’re able to share the goodness of Jesus’ love and strength with others who are also going through difficult times. There are countless things to praise God for and the Bible calls us to rejoice and praise God for them all.
Praising God is one of Scripture’s major themes. Praise begins in the heart and is connected to our everyday life. We have the Gospel message that begins with God creating everything and it’s good, and very good! However, we are all sinners and we don’t measure up to God’s standards. God’s just, he can’t simply tolerate our sin and pretend it’s not there, he must punish sin and the punishment is death. There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, no matter how good we might be, we still sin. But the good news comes because God’s also love and provides a substitute to take our punishment for us. There’s no creature able to do it, so God sends his own son, Jesus, as the perfect substitute to take our place; completely God and completely sinless human. Our sin’s placed on Jesus who takes it to the cross, and to the grave, and after 3 days rises from the dead, having completely overcome sin and death. Jesus offers forgiveness and new life, a gracious gift, to all those who will believe in him. Jesus then gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us. We’re saved to do good works, showing our thankfulness to Jesus, assuring us of our faith so others can be won over to Jesus. This is a joy filled message for everyone!
Learn to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in you and around you, and don't just give him praise when he answers a prayer the way you were hoping. It’s easy to praise the Lord when he does something for you, it’s something better to praise and give God thanks when things aren’t going your way. Praise God then because he’s with you, Immanuel, and he never abandons you. And when others are praising you because of something you've accomplished, be humble and reflect the praise back to God.
Join the angels and shepherds in praising Jesus. May our life and words be shaped by Psalm 138:1, “I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the gods I will sing your praise.” Join with all creation and praise God at all times with the Psalmist in Psalm 69, “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.” Psalm 66 reminds us that when Jesus returns, “All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You; they will sing praises to Your name.” May we be worshipping and praising Jesus alongside all creation when he returns and every day until then!