One of the most amazing things about the Christmas story found in the Gospels is the simplicity with which it is told. Luke, for example, does not attempt to embellish the story in any way to remove anything that might distract from the sentimentality of his account, nor does he add some things that might make the story more fanciful to the reader. He simply gives the facts, and we are impressed with the nature of the account. It is a simple story, simply told.
And yet the profundity of that story has never been plumbed. No man has ever or can ever reach the tremendous meaning and importance of that story. For what Luke describes is the incarnation of the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ. The significance of this fact is that God, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, became man and was cared for by his mother, and laid in a manger. This is the story that Luke describes here. It is so simple that every Sunday School child knows the story. But it is so profound that not even the wisest of men have been able to grasp the meaning of it aiL This is indeed the mystery of Godliness.
But it is a sad fact that today so many millions of people see only the simplicity of the story, without ever seeing the profoundness of the event. They see only a beautiful, enchanting story of a baby laid in a manger, but they completely miss the tremendous significance of the Incarnation, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. But they need not miss this great significance. If they would but listen to what the angels sang, they would see the truth of the Incarnation, and they would begin in a measure to understand that this story, so simple, is the profound truth of God becoming man. The question then is what the angels sang.
They sang first of all of praise. We read in Luke 2:14 that they sang, “Glory to God in the highest.” There are three things that stand out in this song of praise which the angels sang. The first is that the angels sang in praise of God’s glory. It is not surprising that the angels sang of the glory of God. The angels are always interested in the kingdom of God, doing the will of God perfectly so that the kingdom can advance. When therefore God took such a step as this, sending his own Son into the world to assume the flesh of mortal man, they are indeed interested, and thus bring praise and glory to God. But when we read that they sang to the glory of God, singing praise to God, we must look for something deeper. The fact that they sang to men is vital for our understanding of what the angels sang. The angels always sing to the glory of God, but they sing in heaven. What made this event different is that they sang to men; they directed their song of praise to God toward men. There must have been something additional in terms of this song that brought the announcement to the shepherds. That additional point in the song of the angels was the fact that they sang about the glory of God. This is the key point in their song. The meaning of this word is most important for our understanding of what the angels sang. The glory of God refers to the being and existence of God. The word “glory” is thus synonymous in Scripture with God himself. The glory of God is therefore Cod himself. This is made quite clear, it seems to me, in an episode in the Old Testament. While Moses was on Mt. Sinai communing with God, he asked for the special favor from God that God should show himself to him. Now the very interesting and striking thing about that account is that when we read that God was about to show himself to Moses, the Bible does not say that God showed himself. It says rather that the glory of God was shown to Moses. In other words, the word “glory” refers to God. Moses saw the glory of God, and the Bible indicates that in that way Moses saw God.
Now the angels are also singing about the glory of God. What then is the significance of this song? It is that the baby born in Bethlehem about whom the angels were singing was none other than God himself. The angels were announcing the birth of Christ, the Son of God, to the shepherds. In other words, while God had revealed himself to Moses in the Old Testament at one point in history, now he was revealing his glory in Jesus Christ. The glory of God therefore was being revealed in a complete way, far more complete than it was given to Moses in the old dispensation. In praise to God, the angels sang that God was incarnated in man, and thus the glory of God was among men. This was their song of praise.
The second thing that we must notice about this song of praise is that it is a song that speaks of God’s revelation. Once again if we notice that the idea of glory speaks of God revealing himself, we can understand the revelation of God in this song of the angels. All throughout the old dispensation, God was revealing his glory. God was revealing himself in a progressive way during that dispensation. He revealed his glory to Abraham, to Moses, and to the prophets. Always it was progressive. And as it was progressive, it was also broken. God revealed himself only “in divers portions and in divers manners,” as the author to the Hebrews explains. But now the angels come to announce to the shepherds that this has come to a gloriOUS climax. The revelation of Cod to man, which in the old dispensation was progressive and at the same time spotty and broken by time intervals, now has reached its completion. For now God is revealing himself in his only begotten Son. The revelation is complete now; as Hebrews 1:1, 2 points out, “God hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son.” This is what the angels sang about, you see. Whereas in the old dispensation, God revealed himself to this person and then to that, now God would actually come to dwell among men, to take up his abode with men, to tabernacle among them. This was the message of the angels when they sang to the glory of God. God’s glory is now being revealed as it never was before. It has now reached the zenith of God’s revelation, namely in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
And there is a third thing that ought to be seen in terms of the song of praise which the angels sang. And that is that they, by their song of praise, are calling upon us to join them in this hymn of praise to God. The angels saw the great significance of the Incarnation. And they are calling upon us to also see this thing which the Lord has made known unto us. They saw the birth of Christ as the fulfillment and climax of all that the old dispensation began. They saw the Christ as the One who fulfilled all the shadows that symbolized the fulness of the reality. And thus they saw that the Christ was the fulfillment of the way in which the old dispensation had pointed in terms of the remission of sin. They call to us today and to all men to see in the Lord Jesus Christ the final solution to the tragic problem of sin. The old dispensation could only point toward that solution. It dealt only in shadows and symbols. But now the reality has come; now the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life has come. To all who are burdened with the weight of sin, the angels announce the solution. Glory to God in the highest, for God has brought about the final step in His progressive revelation. The answer to man’s deepest problems has come in the Person of Jesus Christ. He has come to fulfill the sacrificial system, for he is the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. Therefore, sing praise to him with the angels!
What did the angels sing? They sang secondly of peace. We read in the text of Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” To a great many people, this is the only thing that really counts about what the angels sang. When the question is asked, What did the angels sing? The answer comes from most people, Well, of course, they sang of peace. The word “peace” is perhaps one of the words that is used more often in Our vocabularies than any other major concept. And because men are looking for peace, they look to the word of the angels, for they sang of peace. Thus today millions of people think of Bethlehem and the birth of Christ as the means to achieve peace, that illusory concept that has been the center of man’s desires ever since the beginning of history. But is this really the thing that the angels were singing about? Were they singing about the peace that the world thinks of today? I think that when we examine what the angels sang, we will find that this is not at all what they were singing about.
The peace about which the angels sang is peace with God. This is the place where all the world must begin if indeed any semblance of peace is to be gained in our world today. And this peace can only be seen and understood in the context of sin. Only when one understands sin and its essential character winhe ever know what true peace is all aixmt. There was a time when that peace did exist. It existed in the Garden of Eden before sin interrupted that peaceful relationship behveen man and God. But when Adam and Eve sinned, peace was destroyed. What happened to that peace? Well, the thing that happened was that God removed himself from man. I think that we must see the Biblical picture of the result of sin in that way. It was not first that man removed himself from God. God, because of his holiness and righteousness, could have nothing to do with man as a sinner. God separated himself from sinful man. It was inevitable because of God’s essence. He is a holy God who cannot stand sin. His holiness flashes out against sin and the sinner. And the only result of that is death for the sinner. Thus when man fell into sin and thus brought about God’s alienation against man, that was the end of peace—until Christ came and the angels sang again of peace. How could they sing of peace? Only if God could be reconciled to man can peace be restored. And God must first be reconciled to man before man can be reconciled to God. The separation that existed between God and man can only be wiped out if God is “propitiated,” if God’s wrath is pacified, removed. Only then can God come to man and restore peace with man. Thus if peace is to be restored, it must be God who does it. This is a very fundamental proposition. Because sin destroyed the peace, man can do nothing but sin. He can only add to the problem, he cannot help to remove it. So if there is to be any peace at all, God must bring it about. And that is precisely what the angels were singing about. For they were saying that God has indeed done something about it. He has sent his Son into the world in order to bring about peace.
How then did Christ bring about peace? Ah this is the great message of Christmas, you see. And it is so important that we cannot overemphasize it enough, especially in a day when that message is so horribly mutilated by modern man. For modern man has the notion that the way in which Christ brought about peace was that he came to show us how to live in peace. He lived in peace with God and with men, and if we follow his example, we will also be able to live in peace with God and man. Thus to many people today, the angels sang in order to tell men to follow the Christ child. See how he lived, and follow that example. Then there will be peace again. But the angels were decidedly not singing about that kind of peace. They were singing about something that was a great deal more basic than that. They were singing about the most pressing problem that faces man, namely the removal of the sin that destroyed peace with God. And that peace with God can only be accomplished when the wrath of God against man’s sin is first removed. This is the first and greatest need. God must be satisfied; he must be propitiated. And the song of the angels was that this is precisely what the Christ was going to do. Christ was going to do this by taking the wrath of God upon himself. And he was to do this by first of all taking our sin upon himself. As the apostle Paul put it, he became sin for us. And becoming sin for us, he also suffered the punishment of God’s wrath against sin for us. He took the wrath of God, and thus satisfied the demands of God regarding the satisfaction of divine justice. Now God will be propitiated; he will be pacified in regard to man. This is what the angels were singing about when they sang, Peace on earth. Christ had come to bring peace between an offended God and offending sinners. The message of the angels is to men who have been longing for peace for ages, a message that says, Finally this peace has come. Christ is our peace. Therefore, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace!
What did the angels sing? They sang finally of grace when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased.” This phrase, especially the words “in whom He is well pleased,” is perhaps the most misunderstood and misinterpreted phrase in Scripture. Millions of Christmas cards have added to the confusion by their emphasis upon peace coming through the efforts of men of good will. The thought seems to be that when these men of good will lay aside their animosities, then peace can once again be restored. But this is not what the angels sang. The good pleasure of God which is the subject of the angels’ song here is only ever used in Scripture to refer to God. It is his good pleasure, not man’s. So Jesus speaks in Matthew 11:26 of the good pleasure of God when he said, “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” This is the kind of thing that the angels were emphasizing here. They were saying that this peace with God on the basis of the reconciliation brought by Jesus Christ is for those in whom God’s good pleasure resides. Who are those in whom God’s good pleasure rests? This obviously refers to all those who receive by faith the reconciliation which Christ has bought for them. It refers to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They and they only are the ones in whom God’s good pleasure rests. All others who reject him are the recipients of God’s wrath as John teaches in his third chapter. Thus the good pleasure rests upon all those whom the Lord Jesus Christ reconciled to the Father. For that is the only way in which God’s good pleasure could possibly be realized. If indeed, Christ had brought peace to all men; if he had reconciled God to all men; then it would be obvious that all men would also be the recipients of God’s good pleasure. Then obviously the wrath of God would not rest upon any man, for it would certainly be impossible for God to be well pleased and badly disposed to the same people at the same time. Thus the ones who are the recipients of God’s good pleasure are the same ones who have been reconciled to God through the glorious work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who then are these? They are none other than the elect of God, those whom he has chosen from all eternity to be his own. To them comes the great message of the angels that God’s good pleasure rests upon them.
As we enter this Christmas season we are reminded again of the lack of peace in our world. The great crises that have been with us for years are still unsolved. The great problems of the ages are still no nearer to solution. But we know the reason for these problems and we know the solution, the only solution that can possibly bring the world into the peace that is so illusory. That solution is found in the song of the angels. If we are willing to listen again to their song, and to go back to the solution that the Word of God presents to these age-old problems of sin and destruction, then we can bring the light of the world into the darkness of our time.