Our midweek Advent series this year was on angels. The first Wednesday we learned how these powerful spirits protect us. The second Wednesday we learned how these angels teach us how to worship. And last Wednesday we learned how the angels proclaim the Gospel. In short, angels are God’s servants, who do as God commands. So, what we have heard tonight, the angel announcing the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior, to a small group of shepherds, and then the great multitude of the heavenly army of angels joining in to praise God in the highest and declare peace and goodwill on earth, all this is by the command of God. Yet, this event stands in stark contrast to the first command recorded in the Bible which God gave to the angels.
Way back in Genesis chapter 3 after Adam and Eve sinned against God and were evicted from the Garden of Eden, God sent angels, called cherubim, armed with flaming swords to guard the way to the tree of life. These angels were charged with the task of keeping Adam and Eve out of paradise! What a great contrast from what we hear tonight, when the angels open up the heavens and declare God’s good pleasure to poor sinners! The angels, who were given the obligation to close the gates of paradise to mankind are now given the privilege to announce the opening of those gates to all who believe on Jesus Christ! It is as our hymn of the day declares in the sixth verse:
He is the key and He the door/ to blessed paradise;
The angel bars the way no more.
To God our praises rise/ to God our praises rise.
And you can understand then why the angels are so joyful and sing such praises to God! Christ Jesus has come to make all things right! He has done what no one else could do, neither man nor angel. He has opened the gates of heaven to poor sinners!
Yet, most underestimate how great a feat this is, which God has accomplished. They underestimate how far mankind fell; they belittle how much love God has for us and how much he gave in his endeavor to save us.
Adam and Eve fell into sin not simply because they ate a piece of fruit. Listen to what the serpent said, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) So, in that fruit Eve and her husband Adam saw their chance to be as wise as God; to become independent from him; to become themselves gods.
This is the greatest sin against the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. Adam and Eve had other gods, themselves. They did not want to fear God. They did not want to be dependent on him so that they would need to trust in him. In their sin, they had no love for their Creator and heavenly Father.
And that is how we are in our sin. All sin in us is rooted in this desire to usurp God from his throne and set ourselves in his place! We want to be gods. We want to make the rules. We want to decide what is right and wrong. And so, we do! When we hear God’s word, we make our own determination whether it is important or not! We pick and choose which of God’s words we will believe and which we will disbelieve; which we will live by and which we will ignore! We imitate the sins of our first parents and even surpass them in our vice. This is no small sin. This not a little oopsie daisy, no biggie; no problem; no big deal. We are talking about a fall from God’s grace; rebellion against God himself; joining with Satan in a war against God!
For such rebellion, God has every right to condemn us to hell. He is perfectly justified in casting us out of paradise forever! Yet, that’s not what he has done! We take this for granted, but God did not do for the angels as he did for us! The Bible says in the book of Jude, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under the gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” (vs. 6). Satan and his demons are fallen angels. But God offered them no chance of salvation. God never said to an angel, “You are my son, today, I have begotten you.” He never promised to become an angel or to send the angels a savior. Rather, he forever blocked the fallen angels out of paradise and damned them to hell. As he had every right to do! Yet, for our sad race, which leagued itself to Satan’s side, God offers salvation!
God loves us more than the angels. He made mankind in his own image. Immediately after God caught Adam and Eve in their sin, he promised a Savior, born of the woman, who would crush the head of Satan while enduring suffering for our sake. (Genesis 3:15). The birth of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise God gave to Adam and Eve, two sinners, who joined themselves to Satan against God. And this birth is a promise to us, which tells us that God does not desire our damnation, but our eternal salvation.
Even the cherubim armed with flaming swords guarding the way to the tree of life, God sent out of love for us. He did not want those two sinners to eat of a tree that gives eternal life, because then, they would be forever trapped in their sins. Rather, God had already prepared a way to eternal life for them. God would send his own Son to become a human being, so that he would die for our sins and clear the way to paradise for us.
This is why the birth of Jesus is such a big deal. This is why God sent every angel at his disposal to announce his birth and teach us how to sing praises to our God. This is why we still celebrate this holy night over two thousand years later.
Every angel in heaven sang:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, good will toward men.
This is what brings God glory. That his Son joined our human race in order to save us. And that we accept this Christ-child, so that he forever dwells in our hearts. This brings more glory to God than all the wonderful works of the angels. Our salvation! Our union with God through his Son Jesus Christ. This glorifies God in the highest.
And in this song, the angels declare a wonderful promise to us, “And on earth peace, good will toward men.” Indeed, there is now peace between God and our human race through the mediation of Jesus Christ. On account of Jesus, God is reconciled to us. He is not angry with us. Rather, God accepts us for the sake of Jesus, his death and resurrection. There is peace between God and us.
Yet, this proclamation of the angels does not say, peace in heaven. It says, peace on earth. And this is not simply a wish, a hopeful expression like, “have a good day!” No, this is a prophecy; a divine promise from God. There will be peace on earth!
But has this prophesy failed? Since the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem until now, wars have not ceased upon the earth. If anything, they have increased! Yet, the angels are not speaking about peace between heathen nations. The angels are speaking about those who accept this baby Jesus, born in the manger. Among those, who love this Christ child, who hope in him for their salvation, who are reconciled with God through faith in Jesus’ blood, there will be peace. This is a divine promise. This is a prophesy that cannot fail.
Our hymn of the month this December was "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In the last verse this congregation prayed every week, “O come, Desire of nations, bind/ In one the heart of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.” These were not vain words we sang. We sang these words in firm faith that they would come true. Christ Jesus ends our sad divisions. He is our King of Peace. All who trust in him become peaceful, as Jesus himself taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Those who trust in Christ Jesus love one another. Scripture says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1 John 5:1) And Jesus himself declares, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Those who love Jesus, who are reconciled with God the Father through faith in Christ and his blood, who rejoice at the birth of God in a manger, love one another. As God has loved us, so do we love one another. We try to do what pleases our fellow Christians and that which causes them harm we try to avoid. We speak well of one another. We think of one another’s interests over our own. As we confess one Lord and are joined in one Baptism, so we desire to be one.
Yet, it doesn’t work out so beautifully, does it? Rather, it is often the case that we are selfish and careless with our words and actions. We offend one another and isolate ourselves. Christians at enmity with other Christians! This happens, because although the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. We Christians still sin against each other. Yet, our Lord has given us a way to deal with this problem here on earth and so maintain the peace we are given by the Prince of Peace. Jesus says that when your brother sins against you go and show him his fault between you and him alone, and if he listens, you have gained your brother! Jesus teaches us to forgive those who trespass against us, even as God forgives us our trespasses.
Yet, too often we don’t do that. Rather we think, “I did nothing wrong. This person has offended me. That is his problem. I have every right to hate him in my heart.” Yet, that is not how God has dealt with us. When we sinned against him, God did not simply cast us off and hate us forever. Rather, while we were still sinners, when we didn’t ask for it, God sent his Son to be born of the Virgin Mary and to die for our sins. God confronts us with our sins and gives us a Savior, so that he can make peace with us. And so, it is our responsibility as God’s children to make peace with one another. Forgive one another even as God in Christ forgave you.
If you have a problem with a fellow Christian, go and talk to him. It may seem like an intimidating task, but God is not commanding you to make peace yourself. God has already made peace through Jesus Christ. When you go to your fellow Christian, whom you are at odds with, you go armed with the blood of Christ. You go with the power and authority of the Prince of Peace, who has made peace for us.
Through the Christ-child, who was once laid in a manger, God has made you people of Good Will. He has made you peacemakers, through the Prince of Peace himself. You are fully equipped. Martin Luther says that those who refuse to make peace do not listen to the song of the angels, but rather the howling of the wolf, the devil. Don’t listen to the lies of Satan. Listen to the voice of those angels sent by God. Peace on earth. Make peace with one another. God has done much more to make peace with you.
It is a joyful gift that God has given us that we can be reconciled with one another. Nothing is impossible for us, who know Christ Jesus. So, through Jesus let us make peace with one another now, as we wait for God to command his angels to escort us to heaven, where we will sing praises to God in the highest with the angels and with one another forever more.
God’s peace be with you. Merry Christmas. Amen.