Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sermon on Luke 2:1-20 & Hebrews 1:1-6, for Christmas Eve, "Angels Help us to Adore Him"

The Savior is Born! He is born in a manger! As we celebrate Christmas, one of the parts of the story that most captures our attention is the angels. But it’s very important to point out that the angels have a serving role in the story—angels never point or draw attention to themselves, but only to Jesus. One of our hymns sings: “Angels, help us to adore Him; you behold Him face to face.” The word “angel” means “messenger”—and this is just what they do—bring the joyful message(s) of God to us, and help us to worship God—because they see and know God face to face. They know and see more than we do, but they still do not know everything, as only God does. Today, the angels will help us to adore, or worship Jesus, as we listen to them glorify the Son of the Most High, and join in with our songs and praises.
Hebrews 1 was one of our readings today. It says Jesus was blessed by God with a name that is far superior to, and more excellent than the angels. God never said to any of the angels: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” but Psalm 2, God says it about Jesus, His Son. God would be His Father, and He is His Son. The angels are glorious; angel decorations are found everywhere; we sing about “Angels We Have Heard on High” and our kids even dress as angels, to tell the Christmas story. Angels seem glorious to us, and we join them in the joyful duty of telling the Good News about Jesus—but their glory is far lesser than the Son. It is to Him they sing: “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” or “Glory to God in the Highest.” The Son has far greater glory, even lying in the humble straw bed of the manger. Even as smelly, lowly shepherds who have tended their flocks all day and night, are the first worshippers to greet His holy birth. However lowly the circumstances of Jesus’ birth—this is hiding the great glory that is visible to God and the angels above.
Interesting that the book of 1 Peter tells us that one of the things that angels didn’t fully know, and neither did the old prophets of Scripture, was the “when” of God’s plan of salvation, and “ who” the Savior would be. The prophets searched the very Scriptures, which by God’s design they had a hand in writing—and the angels also “long[ed] to look” into the good news of salvation (1 Peter 1:10-12). They had a curiosity to discover the who and when of salvation. So it’s no surprise that they burst out singing with joy when Jesus is actually born. The questions were beginning to be answered! The who and when was unfolding! And they share their excitement with the shepherds and point them the right direction to find this “Who” and see the Savior born in the stable.
What do the angels tell us about who Jesus is? Gabriel tells Mary that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Who is the Most High? None other than God! That Mary’s Son would be called God’s Son had to throw Mary for a loop—but she did not presume that she knew better than God’s plan or design—but instead humbly accepted her calling. It’s a marvel and a mystery, but God joined Himself to human flesh in His Son Jesus. He would conceive this Holy Child in the womb of the Virgin Mary—no man would be His father, but God is His true Father.
Gabriel goes on to tell her that “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Did these words puzzle her, or make sense? They refer back to God’s promises 1,000 years before to King David, that He would establish David’s throne and make His kingdom to last forever. Problem for Israel was, they hadn’t had a king on the throne in 700 years. And the kings of Israel before then, and the kings of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans who ruled over Jerusalem in 700 years since—they both were a long succession of political dysfunction. Or more importantly, unbelief toward God, and the unjust rule that naturally followed after such unbelief. Whether ungodly kings like Ahaz, or no Israelite king at all—whether the semi-just rule of foreign King’s like Cyrus, or the tyranny and bloodshed of Greek and Roman rulers—the Jews knew no rulers whom were godly and just. They had no prospects of the throne of David being restored to them.
But they did have God’s promise. God had said these words to David, and was now repeating them to the humble Virgin Mary. She was not a queen or royalty. No one was looking to her to bear a prince to take the throne. She was just a descendant of David, a peasant girl living a simple life in Nazareth—away from the power centers of Jerusalem. But it was to her, nevertheless, that the angel reaffirmed God’s old promise to King David. Promises of a Son to rule on His throne and establish the kingdom forever—promises now being delivered at long last to Israel. And as she delivered that child Jesus into the world, the earth received its King.
King Jesus is unlike any other king—He didn’t seek traditional forms of power; no armies or even bands of revolutionaries. He did not seek power through political platforms, manipulating crowds or seeking office. He did not even seek power through the traditional religious authorities, such as the Sanhedrin or the High Priest, to gain the backing of the Temple. Rather, Jesus claimed a kingdom, and a base of subjects or citizens, who were “poor in spirit”, who were “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”, who were humble like children—for theirs  is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus claimed followers who meekly received the kingdom of God through His Word and teaching, and didn’t require the power, prestige, position and honor of the world, but sought after the higher righteousness of God’s kingdom. And so the “forever kingdom” Jesus came to rule and to establish in the line of David, was no traditional kingdom with flags, thrones, armies, popular movements or territorial boundaries, but a spiritual kingdom that to this day has been spreading all over the earth. This kingdom never ends, but grows until the day when Jesus judges the living and the dead, and unites all power and authority under Himself. His kingdom advances not through traditional methods and forms of power, but through the simplicity of His Word and truth transforming hearts and setting us free from the slavery of sin and lies.
So when some poor and lowly shepherds were minding their own business in the fields at night, it was once again an angel who came to tell them of the arrival of this King and promised Savior. Saying: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, and Micah prophesied it would also be the birthplace of the ruler, the Messiah. And so Jesus was born there, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy. Interestingly, Jesus was not the only one laying claim to the title “Savior” or “Lord” in those days. The very Caesar Augustus mentioned in our reading, who called for the census, also tried to claim the titles of “Savior” and “Lord.” As one of the most powerful emperors on earth, he believed he was a divine ruler, and should be worshipped as a son of the gods. The incredible pride and arrogance of the Roman emperors, with their incredibly rich lifestyles and displays of power, couldn’t show a sharper contrast to Jesus who was born, with the true and rightful claim to those titles “Savior”, “Christ”, and “Lord.” His birth was like an average peasant child. His guests were lowly animals and shepherds. His birth chamber was humbler than any king. But only He had the rightful claim to those titles.
Angels knew it then and there, as they burst out in multitude, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Angels saw the glory of the One and Only, whom God the Father calls “Son.” Angels saw the True Sovereign, the True King of all Creation, laying in humble estate. No such song did they sing for any other human ruler. No such praise did they lavish on any other royalty, but only to the baby whose glory was here disguised to human eyes, but not to theirs. They help us adore Him because they see Him face to face.
The glory of Jesus would remain hidden, peeking out only briefly at various key moments in His life. A glimpse of His childhood genius in understanding the Word of God, at the Temple. A glimpse His divinity at His baptism, God’s voice declaring; “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” A glimpse His radiant glory seen only by 3 select disciples, on the Mount of Transfiguration. Little glimpses of glory through signs and miracles that made crowds marvel and religious leaders puzzle and scratch their heads. But Jesus’ glory would be “kept under wraps” for His most important sign and glorious miracle—His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead. This was His crowning glory. And when Jesus ascended into heaven and was seated at God’s right hand, He is crowned as the Forever King, ruling over the throne of David, now lifted up to the heavens.

The glory hidden at King Jesus’ birth—proclaimed by angels, and seen by those with eyes of faith to see it, is a glory for all Jesus’ subjects and citizens to know and to praise. The exceptional Son of God, far above the angels, far above all earthly powers, but who did not despise the lowly life on the very earth He created. Who did not despise a peasant’s birth in a manger, or to crawl on the dust of the earth as a baby, or to learn His lessons as an ordinary child, or to grow up as a mature man, so He could teach of the Greatest Kingdom that has ever existed and will ever exist—the Kingdom of Heaven, which is already among us by hearing and believing Jesus’ Word. And we see the exceptionalism of King Jesus, who did not despise His death on the cross, but did it to secure His kingdom and our place in it—and while He reigns far above the heavens—He remains near to us as His Word and Promises—near to us as His gifts of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the proclamation of His Word. Near to us as to hear and answer our prayers. We have such a King! Let us gladly bow down to Him and praise Him together with all the angels and the heavenly hosts! Amen. 

No comments: