“Glory to God”—Luke 2:14a
Glory to God in the highest. Joseph and Mary had journeyed to Bethlehem because of the decree of Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. There had been no room for them in the inn. They had been led to a cave outside of the city of David, and there Jesus was born. It was at this moment that Heaven’s announcement of Christ’s birth had come to the shepherds, first by Gabriel and then by a heavenly host who had gathered around these shepherds. And it is in this song of the angels that we read: Glory to Godin the highest. The meaning of this expression is not “Glory to God Who is in the highest,” but “Glory in the highest to God.”
By whom was this song sung? Of course, first of all, this angelic chorus sang this song. Momentarily these angels, who are continuously gathered about God’s throne, had appeared here upon earth. However, this song is also sung, in the highest, by all the saints that have gone before. Indeed, how tense had been the struggle between the church and the world, between the Seed of the woman and that of the serpent. . . ! How these saints had welcomed this heavenly announcement! Yes, these saints had been saved, but why and how? The devil had accused Michael about the body of Moses, and Michael had not been able to answer him—see Jude 9. However, the angels, too, were vitally interested. Had they not lost their head when Satan fell? Indeed, how true it is: Glory in the highest to God!
Remember, however: Glory to God. O, we then may speak of the “little baby Jesus,” and “His sweet head,” etc. But let us remember that all this has meaning only as willed and realized intentionally by God. Glory to God!
What a setting for the event of the ages, the amazing coming into our flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the birth of the eternal Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh! What a contrast!
On the one hand, attend, please, to the announcement of Gabriel and the song of the angels. What an amazing announcement by Gabriel: this day in the city of David is born a Saviour, Christ, the Lord! Can we conceive of a more startling, terrific announcement? Imagine: today is born Christ, the Lord! Christ is the Messiah. He is the Hope of Israel, to Whom the people of God had looked forward throughout the ages, throughout the darkness and the shadows of death all these hundreds and hundreds of years. Besides, these tidings will be of great joy to all people! He is Israel’s Saviour and Lord. He is not merely the Saviour. He is not merely the Saviour of these shepherds. He is the Saviour of all people!
Then, there is the song of the angels. “Peace on earth,” we hear them sing, and “good will toward men.” Peace on earth! What an amazing thing! What a magic word this is! Peace? On earth? Where is it? And, “good will to men.” And the reference here is the same as in the expression, “which shall be to all people.”
On the other hand, however, notice how this announcement is made. Indeed, what a setting! Here the Messiah is sung, in the hollow of the night, to a few shepherds upon the outskirts of Jerusalem. Was there no better place or time to make this announcement? Is He not Israel’s King and Lord, this Wonder-Child? Why, then, was His birth not announced in Jerusalem? Why this announcement when all people are asleep? Is He not Israel’s Hope and Joy Whose birth would be joy to all people? Why this announcement to a few shepherds? Indeed, could not a more appreciative audience have been found? Had the announcement been made in Jerusalem, would not all Jerusalem have hurried to the manger to see the Child? Shall we say, what a shameful waste of time and effort, a shameful lack of publicity?
Indeed, we must be careful here. “Glory to God in the highest.” We must always remember this. This birth of Jesus Christ is no accident, no shameful failure on the part of the Lord to exploit His opportunities to the full. God sent Gabriel and these angels at this very moment, ‘to these shepherds, to this place. This, we must understand, belongs to the essence of this tremendous event of the ages.
O, these angels surely had an audience! To be sure, they were gathered around these shepherds. However, they had an audience, a tremendous audience. First, they sang to God! And, secondly, these angels surely had a vast audience in heaven: the rest of the angels and all the saints that have gone before are “tuned in,” listening with rapt attention.
Besides, this contrast here is so fitting! On the one hand, what was there really to see? All one would see is a man and his wife who came to Bethlehem to be taxed, and she was expecting her firstborn child. What was unusual about that? They are poor and therefore the babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is hardly attractive. And was there anything unusual about the Child that one could see? He is like unto us in all things. He surely does not look like a Saviour, like Israel’s King and Lord. All earthly power and glory are absent.
So, on the other hand, why should these angels strive for effect? Presuppose that they had sung at noonday, before Jerusalem’s mighty and common people. Presuppose, then, that they all had gone to Bethlehem. How utterly vain their coming would have been! Could the sign of God’s coming into our flesh and blood (the manger and the swaddling clothes) have possibly satisfied wicked and carnal Jerusalem, and would they not all have returned to Jerusalem bitterly disappointed?
Glory to God! There is, first of all, the fact of Jesus’ birth as such. He is Jesus. And Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” This Babe is not God Who became a man, and now is no longer God. God did not change. He is God Who is and remains God, the Infinite, the Eternal, the Omniscient, the Omnipresent, the Child Who is and remains God’s Eternal Son. Hence: glory to God. Ascribe this miracle of Bethlehem to Him alone. He alone performed this wondrous thing. This we read inLuke 1:35.
Glory to God! Fact is, salvation is of God alone!
Thus it was at Bethlehem. Was He not wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? The Lord not only descends into our flesh and blood, but He also comes into our flesh and blood as He pleases. These signs, too, are of Him. Do these signs not proclaim the truth, not only that we cannot produce the Christ, but also that we are completely unable to receive Him? O, do not misunderstand these signs. The world, too, is fond of them. They love to speak of them, provided that these signs speak of what man is able to do, that, be our birth ever so humble, we can really ascend to the heights if only we apply ourselves to the task. Or, that, inasmuch as there is a place for Him in a manger, although there is no room for Him in the inn, there is nevertheless a place for Him after all, be it ever so humble.
Indeed, glory to God! That there is no room for Him in the inn is surely symbolic of the truth that there is never room for Him in our hearts, that, were it left to us, we would also deprive Him of the manger and the swaddling clothes. God saves, and He alone! There is no room for Him in our hearts. We are full of sin and darkness. God alone makes room.
Is it not ever thus? Thus it was at the cross of Calvary. Was there room for Jesus, I ask you. Yes, there is room for Him as long as the people do not understand Him. The Galileans would crown Him their king. But when Jesus reveals Himself to them, stands before them in all His spiritual and heavenly significance, as the Saviour from sin, then they lay hands upon Him, take from Him the manger and the swaddling clothes, scourge and crucify Him. And remember: we did this. . . . But God made room. Yes, we killed Him. But, through our enmity God prepared room for Himself in our hearts and in His heavenly and everlasting tabernacle, blazing the trail through our darkness and death, reconciling us unto Himself.
And thus it is throughout the ages. Does God offer salvation to us? Does He simply ask us or plead with us to come unto Him, allow Him to come into our hearts? God forbid! How ridiculous and absurd is such an offer! But, glory to God! He, may we say, “blasts” His way into our hearts. Indeed, our hearts are hard as flint. They are solid rock. Well, this is “blasting,” is it not? Powerfully, efficaciously, irresistibly He makes room for Himself, enthrones Himself in our hearts, to live there forever and guide us in the way of peace.
Did the shepherds know because of what they saw? They saw the Babe, the manger and the swaddling clothes, the abject poverty. Yet, they returned, glorifying God. Did they conclude from the things they saw that the Babe was Jesus; Israel’s Lord, King, and Hope? Why and how did they know? They knew because of divine revelation. They knew because an angel of the Lord had come upon them and through him they received the word of God. They knew because the glory of the Lord had shined round about them, and they had been sore afraid. And the reason why they were sore afraid was because, through the grace of God, they saw the glory of the Lord in contrast to their sin. They knew because they had believed the word of the angel, and to believe is a gift of God. They knew because God had revealed it to them and within their hearts.
Does not the same truth apply to us? To us the word of God has come, through the apostles, in the Lord’s, own infallible Word. We could never conclude, either from Bethlehem or from the cross, that God had come into our flesh and blood and had reconciled the world, His world, unto Himself. But God revealed this mystery of salvation to us, through inspiration, in His own infallible, unerring Word. But this is not all. In us the Lord also speaks His word of grace. Indeed, also our hearts are closed to Him. But the Lord speaks in our hearts by His grace and Spirit, and we know our sin by the power of His grace. We see our sin and also His redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ, our Lord. And now we sing: Glory to God, because of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, also our salvation, now and forever.
Glory to God in the highest!
May we never sing another song.