“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Night it was!
Darkness had settled over the fields of Bethlehem!
And in the stillness of the night shepherds, those children of Israel and of the city of David, lay huddled on the slopes of the Judean hills, surrounded by their sheep, whose care demanded a wakeful ear and a watchful eye lest carnivorous, predatory animals should suddenly appear to destroy one or more of their precious flock.
The only light afforded them was the starry canopy above them. Those harbingers of the day that was to follow must often have spoken to them of much more than the change of night to day. Were they not of the children of Abraham unto whom the Lord had said: “As many as the stars of heaven, so great shall be thy covenant seed”? And were they not fully aware that the Seed, promised to the ancient patriarch, had not yet come? How often, as they gazed up into the star-studded firmament above, as they watched their flocks by night, must the question have troubled their soul: When shall He appear?
Though the night which had settled over the land of Judah seemed silent and serene, so that the hymn writer, musing on the events about to occur on this eventful night, could write, “Silent Night, Holy Night!” yet not so was it in reality. The darkness also spoke of the terrible night of sin and death, the spiritual darkness that had settled on the world immediately after the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Really it was awfully dark; and surely it was not calm and serene. Sin had indeed battled hard, and the light of prophecy had for nigh unto four hundred years ceased to shine. And the world was groping in the throes of sin, corruption, and rebellion against God. How often these true sons of Abraham, with the Word of God spoken by the ancients burning in their hearts, must have prayed for the day when the Light would come!
Indeed, it was night!
Night in the world! Not only on the fields of Ephrathah!
Then suddenly the darkness seemed to split in two! A shaft of light shone through the riven darkness!
The glory of the Lord shone round about them!
And they were sore afraid!
Lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, exclaiming: “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord! And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger!”
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Heavenly gospel chorus!
And, O what a night for singing!
Bethlehem’s Babe signals the victory of God’s Word and Satan’s defeat!
What centuries of bitter struggle had preceded this night of joy! Had not God spoken at the very dawn of history: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel?” And the Devil had heard and understood this announcement. It was the announcement of his utter and final defeat. But he from that very moment on entered upon a life-and-death struggle to crush the woman’s seed. In that struggle Abel lost his life-blood. Pursued by the powers of darkness, Enoch had to be translated to heaven. So great was the dominion of darkness in the antediluvian world, that only Noah was left to find grace in the eyes of the Lord. And after the deluge the struggle goes on. In Egypt, the house of bondage, it seemed as though the very light of the promise would be extinguished. When the kingdom of Israel is dispersed, and the kingdom of Judah is removed to Babylon, it seemed that the sting of the Dragon’s tail had injected a deadly wound. And in the four hundred: years before this wonderful night, it seemed truly that the scepter had departed from Judah and the law-giver from between his feet. The cause of God seemed hopeless, and a darkness, darker than night, had fallen upon the history of God’s covenant. Verily, it seemed that out of the darkness of the abyss, the head of the Dragon would appear and that he would roar out unto all the world that not God, but he was worthy to receive all the praises of men and of angels.
But now, as a root out of a dry ground, the Lion of Judah’s tribe appears!
The Seed of the woman has come!
Jesus, the Saviour, is born!
God has done whatsoever it hath pleased Him!
How often it seemed as though He had forgotten His promise! Often the saints of old could be heard in mournful tunes expressing: “Has God forgotten to be kind? Shall His promise fail forever?” And we may suppose that the angels of heaven just as eagerly had inquired into the promise. To them God’s scheme of redemption must have appeared as an infinite riddle. Anxiously they peered into the works of God to find an answer.
But now at long last the glorious revelation of His good pleasure has taken place. Eagerly the holy angels, those ministers of God’s elect, had looked into the face of Him Who sits upon the throne, awaiting the signal that would send them on a mission of good news. And now the command came: Descend ye holy ones, unto them, my people, who dwell on the earth, and announce unto them glad tidings of great joy! Tell them that unto them is born this day in the manger of Bethlehem a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And be sure to show unto them how that the glory is to be ascribed unto Me, when I send peace unto them who are the objects of my good pleasure!
Glory to God in the highest!
Indeed, a most beautiful, heavenly anthem!
Glory to God Who is the all glorious One! Not so, however, is this to be understood as though something can be added unto Him which he does not already have. For all glory is His. And nothing can be added unto Him that will make Him greater than He is. Rather, His glory is the radiation, the shining forth of all His infinite perfections. He is the-all-wise, righteous, holy, gracious, merciful, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal God. When He displays all His virtues, you see His glory. This is precisely what God was doing now when He sent His Only Begotten Son into the world as a Babe in the manger of Bethlehem. Here He clearly reveals His faithfulness and truth in the keeping of His promise. Here He shows forth His grace and mercy in the sending to us a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And in that Son shall be manifested the very God of our salvation in all His glorious attributes.
In one word, the theme of the angelic anthem is: God is the all glorious One!
It must be clearly seen that the Saviour, born of a virgin, and lying in a manger, is not of us, but of God. Presently when this Child shall grow up and utter His voice, only the gracious words of God shall He speak. When also He gives His soul as a ransom for many, and shall pass away under the vials of Divine wrath as penalty for our guilt; and when He shall be raised from the dead unto the highest heavens,—all this shall be the revelation of the glory of God. When He shall send forth His Spirit into our hearts and fill us with the blessings of His covenant, and when He shall come again in judgment to destroy all that is of darkness, and to usher us into His eternal and heavenly kingdom,—all this is the revelation of His glory.
Small wonder, then, that the angelic chorus sings, “Glory in the highest heavens to God!”
And mark well, to Him be the glory also when peace comes on earth!
Peace also is from Him! Peace through the Prince of Peace, Who is all of God! Peace which the world does not, nor can it know, or produce. Peace which passes all understanding, but which fills our hearts and minds!
O, do not misunderstand the angelic anthem! Not so is their song to be interpreted, that glory is to be attributed to God in the highest heavens, while peace is to be attributed to men of good will. God is jealous of His glory!
Also when peace comes on earth the glory is to be ascribed to God. Peace of God, peace with God, peace through God, peace in God;—it is all of Him and through Him and unto Him; in order that His alone may be all the glory.
That that peace is on earth, must be seen in that Child in the cattle stall of Bethlehem. In Him God and man are united, for He is God with us, Immanuel. And through Him God will establish and realize an everlasting bond of friendship between Himself and His people. And He makes peace through His cross, for God was in Him reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us. And by His Spirit and grace He causes His peace to dwell in our hearts, and in our deepest consciousness.
His be the glory also when He makes us partakers of this everlasting peace!
In men of His good pleasure!
And that means that this peace is particular!
Not so should the angel’s song be interpreted, as though it were up to men to determine who shall be partakers of this peace. It is not a peace which men have because they are of good will, and have a delight in peace. If this were the case, then that which belongs to the glory of God would turn into the praise of men. Believe it, beloved reader, the angels are not singing the praises of men, but of God!
How contrary to all the history of man in the world, and to all that is ever seen of the natural man; that they are ever of good will, and bringers of peace! The very opposite is true. “Their feet are swift to shed blood, and the way of peace they have not known.” Such is the Scriptural analysis of man as he is by nature. At enmity against God, and at war with his fellow man, such is the nature of every man that is born of a woman, and coming into the world. How, then, could the angel’s song ever be understood to imply that men of good will make peace on earth? From the very beginning the truth persists, there shall be wars and rumor of war, as far as man is concerned.
But in the midst of warfaring men, God has His people who are of His good pleasure!
And those unto whom this peace of God comes, are the objects of His good pleasure. Out of His counsel, which always seemed good unto Him, He has chosen those unto whom He brings this peace that is everlasting. No longer do they strive in enmity against God; nor do they delight in striving against men; but in their deepest heart dwells that heavenly grace that unites them in a bond of living fellowship to the God of their salvation, in Christ Jesus. And this peace they enjoy in common with all the redeemed.
And they exclaim from the depths of their hearts, along with the holy angels:
Glory to God in the highest!