Glory to God in the Highest
Christmas Day, 2000| Rev. Rolf Preus| Luke 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Luke 2:14
Who can count the number of hymns, songs and carols that echo the gospel proclamation of the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem? God only knows how many voices have joined in to sing the angelic song in Christian congregations throughout the ages. The church gives glory to her God. That’s called doxology. The portion of the liturgy is called the Gloria in Excelsis. It is the hymn with which we celebrate Christmas every Lord’s Day. “Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
We give glory to God. But what can you give to the One who already has everything? It’s not as if God needs anything from us. Does he not have all the glory he needs – indeed all the glory there is? – He is, after all, God. Still, we glorify God because that is how we confess our faith. By this faithful confession we show that we are Christians. What is the faith we confess? For what, specifically do we glorify God? What is it about God and what he has done that brings us to praise him and ascribe glory to his name?
We glorify God for the beauty of his creation. I glorify him for the beauty of the North woods, especially during the winter, when the snow lays heavy on the branches of the pine trees, the sun is shining and the cold makes everything dry, clean and bright. We glorify God for the vastness of his power as we watch the cold winter wind blow over the white fields of snow. We glorify God for the beauty of his creation as we look at the Northern Lights shining, as it were, from the earth to the heavens, or as we see the sun dog like a rainbow decorate the winter horizon. We look up at the constellations in the sky at night when there are no city lights or moon to obscure their immensity. We stand in awe of our God who gave all this to us. We glorify God for giving us children and faithful husbands and wives, for Christian friends who remember us every year, even though we seldom see them, for health, for leisure, for the talents we need to make a living and care for those we love.
But all of these things can be lost and frequently are. God’s creation becomes polluted, the trees die and the sky is filled with poison. And what can we say to parents whose children die tragic deaths, or, which is even more tragic, turn their backs on the truth they were given? What can we say to the Christian husband or wife whose spouse has been unfaithful? Or to those whom friends have betrayed? Whose good health has been replaced by terminal disease? Who are celebrating Christmas without the one nearest and dearest to them because God took him away? Can you glorify God in sincere Christian faith this morning when you have lost what you loved? When you have suffered betrayal and pain? When your future is so much in doubt that your emotions are riding a roller coaster of uncertainty, fear, anger and sadness?
Yes, you can, Christian, yes you can. You can glorify God with the song of the angels, for their words speak to you of a gift that God will never – can never – take away. You can glorify God for what he will always give to you, even if you were to lose everything else in this world that you love.
You can glorify God for meeting your deepest need, your need for his peace and goodwill. That is why the angels adored him. That is why they sang their song. They did not glorify him for the beauty of his creation or for the love and devotion people show to people or for the good health and financial security that we all desire. They glorified God for sending a Savior to this sinful world. They, like we, were given to know the mystery of the incarnation when God the Son became a human being. And in receiving the revelation of God’s incarnation, in knowing that the Almighty God assumed the nature of man, they made a correct and biblical theological deduction and preached a wonderful sermon to those shepherds watching over their sheep at night. Listen to the angel’s sermon, for God preaches it to you, listen to their sound theological deduction, for it is not mere angelic speculation. It is rather divine logic that penetrates your heart and brings you peace. The angels deduced that if God the Son has really taken on himself a human nature, then God is surely at peace with all human beings. Why else would he do such a thing? Why would God become a man, unless it were to bring peace to us and show us his goodwill? There could be no other conceivable reason. The angel’s theology was inspired by God and has been sung countless times by God’s church, as she sings, not just Gloria in Excelsis Deo, glory be to God on high, but also, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.
We glorify God for becoming flesh because the incarnation proves not just a theoretical possibility that perhaps God will be gracious to us and someday bring us peace but that God has already brought us peace. Note how God’s glory in heaven is joined to the peace he brings to earth. And take this to heart, O Christian, that this peace is for us, all of us, and the proof of it is in the manger. Listen to how the angel’s theological deduction is expressed in a great Christmas hymn by Paul Gerhardt.
Shall we still dread God’s displeasure
Who to save, freely gave his most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us he hath given his own Son, from the throne
Of his might in heaven.
Should he who himself imparted
Aught withhold from the fold, leave us broken-hearted?
Should the Son of God not love us, who to cheer suff’ers here
Left his throne above us?
If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, would he then, he of flesh partaker?
If he in our woe delighted, would be bear all the care
Of our race benighted?
One rhetorical question after another, and the answer to every one of them is NO! God would not have taken on himself our very nature. He would not have joined the human race as a baby. He would not have chosen to live, to suffer and to die for us as a man if he hated us, if he were bent on punishing us, if he did not love us. The incarnation of God, the fact that God was in the manger and on the cross, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has come to you in peace. And from this fact you can glorify God this morning. Whatever your loss, even those things that are your own fault, especially those pains and miseries that you have brought upon yourself by your own sins, whatever they are, they cannot silence the sermon of the angels to you: God is at peace with you, God’s favor rests on you. You can, right now, face that terrible verdict of God’s law that tells you that you do indeed deserve all the loss you have suffered, all the pain, all the sorrow. You can tell God’s law to be silent and to stop accusing you because your God was lying in that manger and that means that God is not angry with you, instead he brings you peace.
You know that the greatest glory of God is in loving those who don’t deserve his love. It is in bringing peace to those who have declared war on him and showing his goodwill, his favor to those who have hated him and their neighbors, indeed have embraced that hatred in stubborn wickedness. These are the people to whom is given the Word of peace. That Word, lying in the manger, that Word, nailed to the cross, that Word, speaking peace to his disciples as he has risen from the dead, that Word tells you that your God is at peace with you. That Word is the ground of your faith, because he has invaded your sinful heart and set it free, he has brought you peace by bringing forgiveness to you. That Word remains the ground of our faith and the source of our praise. That Word is the Word made flesh full of grace and truth.
So we sing the Gloria. We sing it week after week, and it never loses its beauty. We glorify God for meeting our need. We glorify God for redeeming our loss. We glorify God for making peace with us. We glorify God for joining us, in our flesh and blood, forever. And as his goodwill toward us lasts forever, we will glorify him forever. Listen to the great doxology penned by St. Paul, the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:3-7)
This is the meaning of the Gloria in Excelsis that is our privilege to sing here Sunday after Sunday. And so we will return to sing it.