Pastor Dennis Smith
The small band of men were sleeping under the stars that night. They were only about six miles south of the city of Jerusalem. Being on the edge of the Judean desert and at an elevation of about 2500 feet above sea level, clear nights like this one could be a little chilly. So, they had a campfire going to provide warmth against the night chill and to create a circle of light. These men were humble shepherds from the sleepy little town of Bethlehem. They were taking turns guarding their flocks during the night watches.
Those whose turn it was to watch were talking in hushed tones so that they could hear any disturbance among the flock. That night all was quiet and peaceful; that is, until they were startled by a stranger who suddenly appeared next to them. He came out of nowhere. And as soon as they noticed him, a brilliant light illuminated the entire hillside where they were. It was like daylight. They had never seen such a thing. Even those who had been sleeping sat bolt upright as they tried to shield their eyes from this strange and frightening light. It was nothing other than a manifestation of the glory of God. It was a supernatural light that illuminated the surrounding darkness as no campfire could. The light seemed to come from everywhere. It created no shadows; indeed, it dispelled all shadows. It was as though they were immersed in this light. And they were terrified.
Then the mysterious man spoke to them and told them not to be afraid. He said that he was bringing them good news that was cause for great joy. And more than that, this joy would be for all people. He explained the good news: the Savior who was promised long ago had been born that very day in the city of David. The city of David! That was Bethlehem itself! The long-awaited Messiah, the King, had been born right there in town, just a short walk from where they were camped!
Just as they were beginning to grasp what was happening—that this “man” was an angel, a messenger of God sent to them—there suddenly appeared with him a great company of angels, an army of them. They were all in chorus praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
And now here we are, some two thousand years later, being reminded from the Scriptures what happened on that night of nights. Earth and heaven had been bridged. God’s Christ, his Anointed One, had left the glory that was his in heaven and had come to dwell as a man among mankind. What’s more, he came to save the world from sin.
And so, let us consider the message that was heralded by the heavenly host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” As we have said, heaven and earth had been bridged, and God had done that by sending forth his only begotten Son, a Savior. For this, the angels praised God and ascribed to him glory “in the highest,” that is, in the highest, heavenly realm. The angels balanced that praise with the divine declaration, “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” The exaltation of God was from the realms of the earth to the highest heaven; the declaration of peace sent by God was from the highest heaven to earth.
Peace, goodwill—these are all of one promise.
First, peace on earth. God had taken the initiative to bring about peace, not between men, but between himself and mankind. The prophet Isaiah declared Messiah to be “the Prince of Peace.” Yet Jesus himself would later declare that he had not come to send peace on earth, but a sword! No, the peace that was announced by the angelic host was that between man and his Creator. And this peace is wrapped up in God’s offer of salvation. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then, goodwill toward men: the birth of Jesus was the ultimate expression of God’s love and saving grace toward helpless, fallen man. There would be not just an absence of hostility between God and man, but in Christ a genuine love relationship. God would be kindly dispositioned toward those in Christ.
And so, may we each be mindful of the true meaning of Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Let us reflect on the marvelous truth that heaven and earth have been bridged in Jesus, the eternal Son of God made flesh. Let us remember to glorify God as the angels had done. And let us not be reluctant in the coming year to share with those around us the promise of peace with God that is offered through Christ Jesus.