GLORY TO GOD!
John Alden Tagliarini
December 25, 2016
“‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased’” (Luke 2:14).
Luke described the birth of Jesus with praises to God. He painted the scene leading up to and including the manger. Then Luke took us to the fields to introduce us to the shepherds and the angels.
In the final words of our text this morning, God received the praise of angels. They celebrated that Jesus entered history to save us. That’s the bottom line. The revelation of God in Jesus, prompted the praise of the heavenly host.
And, we praise God for sending the Savior. We can do nothing less than join the host of heaven with praises to God for His grace.
We pray, “Lord, fill us with praises for Your grace to us. Amen.”
We need the same things the first century world needed. The stark contrast which Jesus brought to the ways of the world revealed the power of love and the effectiveness of grace. To better understand God’s answer to the needs of the world, let’s consider the question. What was the world like when God sent Jesus?
The world was a world of Caesars. August in their own self-conceived images and assertions. They exercised divine rights and imagined themselves as gods. They built empires and used human resources as though people were expendable.
In the ways we assess effectiveness, leadership is not often humble. According to the world, effective leaders put themselves forward and first on all fronts. Effective leaders brook no insubordination. They are at the top of the food chain and are loath to let anyone think otherwise.
The august Caesar planned a census to count everyone, not because he believed that everyone counts with individual worth as human beings and might need resources, rather because census determined taxation. Also, a census would help him determine military resources and strategies. With hubris, Caesar presumed to own all that he had conquered. He was counting his assets.
Amidst this hubris and among the thousands of travelers, a couple of transients made their way to Bethlehem. Joseph was in the proud lineage of David, but his journey was not a boastful homecoming. Rather, two people made their way under the duress of a foreign king to continue as objects of the imperial domain. Their story changes history.
Telling their story personalizes an otherwise systematic disregard for human life. Joseph and Mary would register with the authorities of the realm, but Mary was with child. New life fills every family with the potential for growth. This promise of a soon to be born baby, fills this story with the potential of the seed of David upsetting all that the greed of Caesar presumed. Into a world of Caesars the true King is born, and we praise God for His grace.
The world also had a scarcity of room, or so everyone believed. That there was no room in the inn has a poetic, even poignant, depth. We discover the metaphor for lack of room reflected in our busy lives and distracted hearts.
Back then, the world may have offered different models of commercialism but the reality is no different today. Whether they are known as kings and princes or as CEOs and presidents, it makes no difference. A relatively few wealthy people control the production and distribution of resources. And worldly desires drive their envy, often prompting jealousy and erupting in conflict.
An imperial edict forced a housing crisis created by an migration of transients. We already mused over what might have motivated the census described in Luke’s Gospel. Today, we see thousands displaced by brutal wars, the results of rivalrous desires to acquire.
Whether the census-created housing shortage in Bethlehem or the greed-created shortage of room in our Bryson City hearts, the trouble boils down to the same messed up desires. And leaders are not the only problem. No amount or kind of Christmas gifts can satisfy our deepest desires when we catch “our” desires from each other.
As long as we want what the other guy has, or seems to want to have, rather than wanting what God wants, we will crowd out any hope for true peace. There will be no room in our lives or our hearts for the Prince of Peace, Jesus. Commercialism will win. Commerce becomes Caesar; and Caesar becomes commerce. There is no room in the inn!
I am thankful that Jesus, even baby Jesus, is Lord! The birth of Jesus creates in me a whole new set of desires. All Jesus wanted in life was to please the Father, to do the Father’s will. This can be my desire too! I praise God for His grace.
As the baby is born, and the story unfolds, the camera pans out for a wide shot, and we see shepherds in the distance. There are shepherds today, ranchers with vast herds and small farms working at subsistence levels. I am certain they are all brave folk who meet the many challenges of the job. The world produced a practical courage based on human strength and skill.
First century shepherds were probably a rough and ready sort. They were accustomed to extended separation from the town folk. They had experience meeting the dangerous threats from wild beasts. Fearless though they might have been, when the angel of the Lord appeared to them, they were terrified.
As the world measures it, courage has much to do with the notion of a tough-guy shepherd. As the angel revealed it, courage has more to do with the Gospel. He said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
The angel went on to say, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). Doesn’t sound very courageous does it? Can all this encouragement come from a helpless baby in a manger? Yes! Profoundly, yes!
What will it take for us to understand the power of love, the power of childlike dependence, the power of God? Will the words of the angels persuade us? The heavenly host praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).
Christian courage is courage to trust God to deliver, not just the baby Jesus, but the Prince of Peace, the Savior, Christ the Lord. Because of the good news of Jesus, we praise God for His grace. Amen.
106 “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”