The Savior's Song: Sung by the Angels
Welcome to the third part of Advent at Sovereign Grace Church. We’re considering the Christmas story as it’s told in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. And today is the most familiar and happy words of Christmas, which include “The Savior’s Song” as sung by the angels. The beginning of Luke chapter 2. The story surrounding the song, as well as the song itself, is the heart of Christmas. Isn’t it?
Verses 1-7; The heart of the Christmas story. And by all appearances it’s an ordinary event. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” “In those days” not “once upon a time.” This isn’t a myth. This is history. The government called for a census, most likely in order to levy more taxes. And it doesn’t get more mundane than taxes.
And that government edict brings Joseph, a young carpenter living in Nazareth, to the town of his family, Bethlehem, which was then a tiny village of a couple hundred people only about the size of a football field. And he brings Mary, not yet his wife, but his betrothed who is pregnant.
They arrive at that small town out in the sticks and they find it’s packed because of the governmental decree. There’s no guest room available. And so Joseph and Mary find themselves staying in a barn, not a great place to sleep, let alone give birth to a firstborn son. But here come the labor pains in a strange town. And no one is there to deliver baby except this first-time dad, whose hands are used to holding tools, not slippery newborns. The baby is born in all the sweat and labor and pain and blood of birth and he’s cleaned and wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough. It is an unspectacular scene. It’s not a pretty scene like the nativity on the end table in my living room. Everything about the scene points to obscurity and indignity and the mundane and the ordinary.
And then the scene changes. And what follows in verses 8-14 is an extraordinary event, with nothing hidden, that celebrates and explains the seemingly ordinary event in the barn in Bethlehem. An angel appears to shepherds just outside Bethlehem. Imagine: the silence and darkness of the night are sliced open by the voice of an angel and the light of the glory of God. And these are shepherds who get this extraordinary angelic announcement. Not priests and rulers, not Scribes and Pharisees. Shepherds. Now, the New Testament goes a long way in redeeming the idea of shepherd by its use of shepherd/ sheep imagery. But, back in these days, shepherd had a bad reputation. These guys were social outcast, who spent most of their time out in the fields away from others. They were the lowest class in Israel. And angels come to them to announce God’s salvation. Remember in Mary’s song when she said that her son would “exalt those of humble estate”? Well, it’s happening already. God’s salvation is for everyone. Jesus came for sinners desperate for his grace.
And this group of sinners was filled with great fear. But the angel comforts them in verse 10: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy (no need for great fear) that will be for all the people. Joy! That is good news. Because the one thing we all crave without exception is joy, happiness.
Now, here’s some good news (and this is good news worth celebrating): God wants to fulfill our desire for great joy. He wants us to be happy. In fact, he’s the one who created us with the desire to be happy. And so the question becomes: what is this joy? How do I get it? Where do I find it? Well, the angel gave the answer. Look at verses 10 and 11 again, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That’s the reason for the joy. That’s the significance of Christmas. It’s why we celebrate: unto you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
The God who is the Creator and Sustainer of this universe entered fully into the human predicament--fully and totally identifying with all that it means for us to be human. Every aspect of human experience became his experience. He lived out a human life in such a way that he can relate to every single person. We can never, ever say to him: God, you just don’t understand what it’s like to be me. God understands. God became a man. Are you suffering? He suffered. O, did he suffer. Are you lonely? He was alone. He was abandoned. By his friends. Are you tired and weary? He was tired and weary. Have you experienced a betrayal? He was betrayed. God understands. He can relate to you no matter your circumstances today. Isn’t that amazing? God chose to relate to us. He became a man.
And he became a man, not merely to relate to us, in order to become our Savior. Here’s good news of great joy: for unto you is born a Savior. This is really good news. This is why the sky lit up. This is what brings the profound joy. A Savior is born. One who brings deliverance and rescue. A savior is a rescuer of someone who needs to be saved from danger. The good news of great joy is that a Savior was born to rescue us from danger.
Now let’s ask: How is Jesus our Savior? Answer: he didn’t remain a baby. He grew up. He lived a perfect life. And then, 33 years later, he suffered and he died a horrific death on a Roman cross. And on that cross he bore the sins of all his people. And he received God’s just anger at those sins. In other words, he suffered and died for those he came to rescue in our place. He received the full punishment for our sins. And so he rescued his people. And when that rescue was complete, Jesus was raised from the dead in power and in defeat of sin and death!
It takes one angel to announce that. But it takes an army of innumerable angels to respond to that. In response to that glorious gospel announcement, a multitude of angels appears, praising God and saying (here’s the song), verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest/ and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” In other words, in the birth of Jesus, God is on the move to bring glory to his name. This moment of all moments represents the pinnacle display of the glory of God. In God’s salvation of his people, his glory shines the brightest. In his salvation we see the glory of his holiness, the glory of his justice, the glory of his mercy, the glory of his wisdom, the glory of his kindness, the glory of his love, the glory of his grace. The excellence and beauty and majesty of God is on display here.
Now, how should we respond to this good news of great joy? Well, I think we should respond like the shepherds did in verses 15-20. I think we should follow their lead. And there are three ways we can follow the shepherds’ lead.
First, we can following the shepherds’ lead and make haste. Verses 15 and 16 again: “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” In response to the good news they heard proclaimed by the angels, they immediately went to Jesus. They dropped everything (they left their sheep) to make their way to Jesus. And they couldn’t get there soon enough.
And what must we do? We must, like the shepherds, just drop everything sometimes and draw near to Jesus. With haste, we must go to Jesus and rivet our gaze on him. Every single day we must focus our mind and heart on Jesus. Drop everything and worship Jesus. Drop everything and open the Bible and with eyes full of childlike wonder, find Jesus there. So let’s obey like the shepherds and go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity--let’s make haste.
Next, let’s imitate the shepherds and make known. I get that from verse 17 of our text. It says, “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” I’m sure the shepherds were speechless in amazement when the angels appeared to them. But they didn’t remain silent for long. It was impossible for them to remain silent. A Savior was born bringing joy and peace with God. That’s newsworthy of proclamation. That’s not news you keep to yourself. Those who make haste to Jesus, make him known.
Let’s make it known to the non-Christian friends and family that you gather with this weekend. Make it known once again to your kids. Let’s continue to make it known once again as we address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Let’s follow the shepherds’ lead and make known the good news of Jesus Christ!
And, finally, let’s follow the shepherds’ lead by making merry. Here’s what I mean: the shepherds glorified God as they left that stable. Verse 20 says this: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” In other words, they worshiped. They partied. They celebrated. They gave vent to their excessive delight. Christians should be the happiest people on the planet. Not because life is good with the nice home and good friends and good food and everything going our way. Our joy is not tied to our circumstances at all. It has nothing to do with possessions and everything to do with a Person. We know that unto us is born a Savior, Christ the Lord. We’ve received the good news of great joy. And so we worship, we give vent to our great joy by singing praises to God.
And when that good news of great joy ignites worshipful singing in our heart, it pushes out all kinds of sinful talk. Think about. If we are worshipfully singing, there’s no room for sinful talk. In other words, if we would sing more, we would murmur less. If we would sing more, we would gossip less. If we would sing more, we would slander less. If we would sing more, we would criticize less. If we would sing more, we would complain less. Singing glorifies our God and guards our lips.
Make haste, make known, make merry.
*Adapted from Sung by the Angels, originally preached by Rick Gamache on December 17, 2017*
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