In 2018, as a church we have been reading through the New Testament. It began with the first book of the New Testament. And it is ending with the last book of the New Testament.
In this last book, there are things to see, but there are also things to hear. There are the sounds of rumbling and peals of thunder (cf. Revelation 4:5). There is a voice that sounds like thunder (cf. Revelation 6:1). There is another voice that sounds like a roaring lion (cf. Revelation 10:3). And still yet another voice that sounds like the playing of harps (cf. Revelation 14:2)! But then there are the sound of voices, a multitude of voices like that of the roar of many waters and the sound of mighty peals of thunder (cf. Revelation 19:6). These are the sounds of heaven. Heaven is filled with sound!
And so, when we read that “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying” (Luke 2:13), what did that sound like? I think it sounded like heaven, all of heaven.
And She Laid Him in a Manger
And it all starts with an announcement. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). This announcement, a decree, went out to all the world. This decree then sent all the world to their hometowns. This decree sent Joseph who was living in Nazareth to his hometown of Bethlehem. This decree also sent anyone else living anywhere else to their hometown of Bethlehem. In other words, it was not just Joseph heading to Bethlehem. This decree sent Joseph to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary. This decree sent Joseph ninety miles to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary. And Mary was pregnant. Did they walk all ninety miles? Or did Joseph walk and Mary rode an animal? It does not matter because they hit every bump and felt every bit of uneven, rocky ground. But the big idea is that this decree got Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.
And while they were there the time came for Mary to give birth. And what happened? Listen to Luke 2:7. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son.” I want us to listen closely. This decree meant that Jesus would be born in a little town called Bethlehem.
But here is the incredible part; this decree was actually doing the will of God. Take that in for a moment. Caesar Augustus thought himself to be a god. It is the point of the word Augustus. It was a word reserved exclusively for the gods meaning holy or revered. Notice in Luke 1 the words, “in those days.” In those days, at the time of this decree and at the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesars were celebrated as saviors. Caesar’s birthday was celebrated, September 23, every year as the first day of the New Year. There was even an inscription in a town in Turkey (Halicarnassus) calling Caesar Augustus, “savior of the whole world.”
This is who God used to do God’s will. It should remind us of something the angel Gabriel said to Mary. He told her to behold this undeniable reality, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” There is no word that God has spoken that God will not accomplish. Behold the unlimited ability of God. And in this case, behold a decree that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. And why is that so important? Because God said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). This Caesar was used by God to fulfill Micah 5:2.
And so, Mary “wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.” This just happened, Micah 5:2 just happened, and Mary laid Jesus in a manger, a stinking feed trough. Why did she do it? Listen to the rest of Luke 2:7. “Because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Of course there was no room in the inn! This and the manger and the decree were all a part of the plan! Is it not something that this, the no vacancy, is the last thing Luke tells us? Leading up to this birth, there is just a lack of drama. There is no frantic search for a room in a variety of inns. There is no heartless innkeeper. This, as Luke tells it, sounds so far like a silent night. There are no tears. There are no cries. There is no worry. There is just Mary wrapping this baby in swaddling cloths and she laid him in a manger. I think Luke really wants us to see that manger. This is how low God came to draw near to us. And I think it is so I never get over how low the Most High God came to save me. It is all a part of God’s plan and that plan included those shepherds, too.
Why the Shepherds?
There they were, these shepherds out in the field keeping a close watch of their flocks, and it was night. So far it was a silent night until an angel of the Lord appeared. And there he was, this one nameless angel, standing among them!
And as he stands among them, the glory of the Lord shone around them, all around them brighter than the sun (cf. Acts 26:13). And like Zechariah and like Mary before them, these shepherds were afraid! And like Zechariah and like Mary before them, the angel says, “Fear not.” What is the reason to not fear?
For Zechariah it was because his prayer had been heard. For Mary it was because she had found favor with God. But for these shepherd it was because “I bring you good news of a great joy.” Literally, I bring you the gospel which is to make you jump for joy. And it is a good news of a great joy for all people, all people including who? This good news was first brought to who? These shepherds. Why the shepherds?
There are many good possibilities. But I think the reason that shepherds heard this good news first, is simply because they were shepherds. And at this time in this society life did not get much lower than being a shepherd. Shepherds stunk. Shepherds smelled like sheep. Shepherds were dirty. Shepherds had a terrible reputation. Shepherds did not have a voice. Shepherds were disregarded. Shepherds were friendless perhaps even family-less. Shepherds were considered losers. And shepherds were given the good news first. And I think it is to demonstrate that God came so low that he might draw near to us at our lowest. It reminded me of Psalm 34:18. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
And there is more to the good news for these shepherds. . “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” Pause for a minute and consider what these men are hearing. For us and to us is a Savior, one who is mighty to rescue. And who is this Savior? He is Christ, the anointed one, God’s promised King. For to us is a king, the promised King (and it just so happens that he will be a good shepherd, a shepherd king). And this King is none other than the Lord, the Almighty God. For to us is the Almighty God, to us! He, this one, has come near to us!
And there is still even more. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in a swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” There is that manger again. Do not lose sight of the manger. Do not lose sight, the awe of how low the Most High God has come for you.
Glory to God, Peace to You and Me
This is this angel’s message. But then comes Luke 2:13. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” How many? A multitude and a multitude is more than fifty, more than one hundred fifty, more than one thousand five hundred. A multitude is beyond count. Someone suggested that this multitude was all of heaven “because this was the most amazing event that had ever happened in the entire universe.”
This multitude does two things. This multitude praised God and spoke or sang. Luke 2:14 is a Christmas song. The word praise here is interesting. It is from a word meaning story, to tell a story. And this word then means a praise that fits the story. It is as if this multitude wants to shout out all that has been said and had to happen for Christmas to arrive. They told the story! There is Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 22 and Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 9 and Micah 5 and Luke 1 and Luke 2:1-7. These angels together told the whole story because they love the whole story (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). It is the story of salvation.
And then they sang together. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Then the angels returned together to heaven. But this is what Christmas means in one sentence.
Christmas means God’s glory and it means peace to you and to me. And the two are inseparable. God’s glory and my peace are inseparable.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has this vision of God. It was in the year that King Uzziah died. And God wanted Isaiah to know that although the king was not on the throne, God was still on the throne. Kings come and go, but God remains forever. And Isaiah sees the Lord high upon his throne. The train of his robe, his majesty and royalty and honor fill the temple. And Isaiah hears the sound of heaven. He hears angels saying one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!” How is the whole earth full of his glory? God’s handiwork – the stars, the moon, his creation – tell of his glory. But I do not think this is what is in view in Isaiah 6. Glory is such a profound, immense word. What is it?
When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God said, “I will show you my goodness” (cf. Exodus 33:18-19). And when John wrote John’s gospel, he said the he and others saw God’s glory in the person of Jesus the Christ. He said it was full of grace and truth, steadfast love and faithfulness. It seems then that God’s glory is all that he truly and wonderfully and beautifully is! And so how is the whole earth full of his glory? How is God’s glory on display above all other glory? Peace. It has to do with peace to you and me.
And so, how can I know this peace? It is a peace that can guard my heart and my mind, a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that settles the soul (Philippians 4:6-7). Listen to the angels’ song. Who can have this peace? It is only those who please God. And so to know this peace, I have to know what it means to please God. There is so much to say, but I just want us to ponder this: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith, without believing God it is impossible to please him. And now watch this, keep pondering Hebrews 11:6. And listen to this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). This peace is found in believing!
Hours before Jesus went to the cross he shared, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Then listen closely to this: “For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). And this one born in a stable and laid in a stinking manger would then go to a cross to make this peace (Colossians 1:19-20).
And so when all of heaven could no longer contain it and knowing the rest of the story, they cried out together, “Glory to the God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” And how then are glory and peace inseparable? God’s purpose is not to give you peace separate from himself. His purpose is to give you peace by being the most glorious person in your life.
 from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones