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, goodwill
toward men!” Luke 2:13-14
I know that Christians like to
fuss and fret about how secularists are trying to take Christ out of
Christmas, but I don’t believe that the biggest threat to Christmas
comes from those who replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy
are easy to spot. It’s
the religious crowd that poses the greatest danger.
After all, there’s nothing wrong with making money by selling
things people want to buy. If
capitalists want to capitalize on a holiday season, why should we
begrudge anyone an honest profit for services rendered?
The freedom to engage in commercial activity helps to create
jobs, provide a tax base for government services, and move resources
from producers to consumers in an efficient way.
Go ahead and make money on Christmas.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
The real threat to Christmas
doesn’t come from secularist grinches or greedy capitalists.
It comes from religious people.
Ever since Satan promised Adam and Eve that they would be like
God, religious folks have been pretending that they know God’s mind
better than He does. Nowhere
is this more obvious than with the many religious explanations of
Christmas. People are not
only incurably religious, they are incurably humanistic.
That is, they impose their own manmade notions on God and attempt
to remake God in their own image. Secularists
and capitalists are easy to spot. I
wouldn’t worry about them stealing Christmas away from us.
Watch instead and beware of the religious observers of Christmas
who set out to exchange the Christmas message of the angels into another
message that brings neither peace nor goodwill.
No greater sermon was ever
preached than the one sentence sermon preached by that multitude of
angels to the shepherds on the night that Jesus Christ was born.
Short and sweet, it encapsulated the very essence of the gospel:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”
Two things are joined together.
Glory to God is joined to peace, goodwill to men.
God is glorified precisely in this: in bringing His peace and His
goodwill to men.
Now if we were gods we
wouldn’t choose to be glorified in this way.
We’d want our creatures to honor us for our sovereign power.
We’d expect to be glorified for every divine quality that sets
us apart from mere mortals. But
then we would make very poor gods.
The devil lied when he said that we would be like God.
There is no one like God but God.
It is God who decides how God is to be glorified.
And He has decided. He
is glorified in that time and place where He brings us peace and
embraces us with His goodwill.
Our text for this morning forms
the basis of one of the portions of the Ordinary of the Divine Service
known as the Gloria in Excelsis. The
Church has been singing the Gloria in Excelsis for many hundreds of
years. It always follows immediately after the singing of the Kyrie
Eleison, which means, “Lord have mercy.”
We sing, “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us,
Lord have mercy upon us.” Or
we sing, “O God, the Father in heaven, have mercy upon us.
O God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us.
O God, the Holy Ghost, true Comforter, have mercy upon us.”
In response to our cry for mercy we hear the pastor sing,
“Glory be to God in the highest” and we respond immediately with
that to which God’s glory is inseparably joined: “And on earth
peace, goodwill to men.”
There is no way to understand
the angels’ sermon except from the posture of humility.
We must cry out for mercy, for in that cry and only in that cry
can the Christmas gospel be heard correctly.
If we don’t call on God for mercy we will misunderstand the
peace and the goodwill of Christmas.
Those who don’t seek mercy from God will not be looking in the
right place for the goodwill of Christmas.
Those who run to God for mercy know that they are spiritually
poor and needy. They need
to receive from God a love they don’t deserve.
They wouldn’t be bowing before God, humbly begging Him for
divine grace, if they did not know their own spiritual poverty and sin.
And since they know their own spiritual poverty they’re not
going to be looking within themselves for that goodwill of which the
angels sang. They know that
they haven’t made peace with God.
They know they’ve made war.
They have put themselves first.
They have responded to evil with evil.
They have neither turned the other cheek nor blessed those who
cursed them. They have not
lived the life of a peacemaker. They
have behaved as they have thought.
Making themselves the center of their own universe, they have
estranged themselves from God and from men.
And they know it. And
they know it is wrong. And
they know they cannot undo the harm they’ve done.
This is why they cry out to God for mercy.
The angels speak God’s
response to our cry: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace,
goodwill to men. Note what our text does not say.
It does not say, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on
earth to men of goodwill.” The
peace that God brings is not for those who have succeeded in working
within themselves sufficient goodwill to find it.
No, the peace that God brings to us is His goodwill.
It is expressed in the words of the hymn: “Peace on earth and
mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
Where do you see the peace?
He is the Prince of Peace, promised by God through Isaiah.
He is Immanuel, God with us.
The peace that sets us at one with our God does not arise from
our goodwill toward Him or one another.
Rather, the peace is lying in the manger.
He is living a life of divine goodwill toward completely
undeserving sinners. He is
welcoming thieves, prostitutes, and lowlifes of every description.
He is inviting Himself into the homes of those scorned by the
religious elite. Those to
whom nobody would ascribe a particle of religious goodwill are those
that this Prince of Peace seeks out. For
He came into this world to save sinners, and that’s exactly what He
And this is what brings glory to
God! Bringing divine peace
and goodwill to those who are spiritually ruined is what brings the
greatest glory to God in heaven. The
glory of God is not revealed in His great power over creation.
It is not seen in His punishment of the wicked.
It isn’t displayed in His overthrowing nations or in directing
the course of history. No,
the greatest glory of God in the highest heavens is in coming to you in
peace and bringing to your heart His goodwill that takes away all your
sin and shame and makes you His own dear child.
That’s God’s glory.
It is in answering our cry for mercy.
God’s glory is in the manger, for in that infant body dwells
all the fullness of God. Hidden
under the cloak of weakness, not to limit God – for God cannot be
limited – but to be there for you who are afraid of God because
you’ve done wrong and you know it and you know that God knows it.
Well look, sinner, and see how God comes to you today!
He’s a little baby. That’s
your God. Look at Him and
see what God intends for you! See
Him live a life as humble as the manner of His birth.
He doesn’t hobnob with the high and mighty.
He glorifies His Father in heaven by bringing here on earth the
peace of sins forgiven to helpless sinners who cry out to Him for mercy.
He goes to where the sinners live and He isn’t afraid of being
corrupted by their sin. Far
from it! He is
incorruptible even as He brings His divine goodwill to those who are
trapped in sin. He sets
them free. His humility sends Him from the manger to the cross.
In His humility He sets His face toward Jerusalem to be rejected
by those filled with their own religiosity, but to be embraced by those
in need of divine mercy. And
there, outside of Jerusalem, a mere thirty-three years after the
angel’s preached of peace on earth and goodwill to men, the Lord Jesus
made peace between God and sinners by shedding His blood on the cross
and taking away the sin of the world.
There the goodwill of God was fully and finally shown.
From the manger to the cross He
went. The announcement of
the angels guaranteed it. There
could be no peace without the Prince of Peace paying the price.
And so He paid it. The
goodwill of God sent Him to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the
Virgin Mary and to be made man. The
same goodwill of God that caused His incarnation is the goodwill of God
that comes from His humble living and dying.
I made a decision about
Christmas this year when I drove over to Home of Economy in search of a
reasonably priced tree. I
couldn’t find one. The
only decent trees cost nearly forty dollars each!
I decided I would fight the commercialization of Christmas by
refusing to spend more than thirty dollars on a tree.
And I didn’t. I
drove east on Gateway Drive until I found a place next to Simonson’s
that sold me a very pretty blue spruce for twenty-nine dollars.
Somebody made some money and we have a beautiful tree to enjoy.
There’s nothing wrong with that!
A little commercialization of a Christian holiday doesn’t hurt
The real hurt comes from the
distortion of the Christmas gospel itself.
God didn’t come into this world in search of people with
goodwill. He didn’t come
to teach nations how to make peace instead of war.
He didn’t come to celebrate the potential of humanity.
He came to bring to us the peace and goodwill of God.
He came to bring it to us here on earth where we live.
We don’t need to climb up to heaven to bring it down, for in
Christ heaven has come down to earth and in Christ heaven and earth are
This morning we cried out for
God’s mercy and God answered with His gospel of peace on earth and
goodwill toward us all. That
gospel is the source of all genuine goodwill that will ever flow from us
to one another. This is why we treasure the gospel so. Not only does it bring God’s peace and goodwill into our
lives; it transforms our lives. It
draws us to God and establishes in us true faith, hope, and love. It makes life worth living and holidays worth celebrating.
It brings us the joy the angels promised and sets our hearts at
peace. Merry Christmas!
Rev. Rolf D. Preus