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TEXT: Luke 2:14
SUBJECT: Songs of Salvation #4: The Gloria
Here's something you may not know about the Garden of Eden: It was not only a garden, it was also a Temple, the place where Heaven and Earth met, and where God and His Image Bearer walked together in the cool of the day.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were barred from the Temple, and I'm of the opinion that it went up to Heaven, tucked away in God's world until its time to come to earth again. Whether my theory is true or not, one thing is sure: the harmony between Heaven and Earth was disrupted. Adam, Eve, and their offspring became the enemies of God and God became their Judge, meting out the punishment they had coming.
This state of affairs lasted a very long time; for centuries there was little or no interaction with Heaven. Oh, Nimrod tried to remake the connection, but doing it on his own proud and self-willed terms led the tragedy that was Babel. He not only failed to restore the harmony between Heaven and Earth, but lost what harmony there was on Earth, as God confounded the languages of men, driving them away from each other, and turning the world into a scattering of armed, suspicious, and hostile camps.
In His justice, God might have let history continue in its downward spiral, but, in His mercy, He chose not to. When the Tower that was meant to reach up to Heaven was abandoned, God came down to Earth, choosing Abraham to be His heir and special servant, promising him a son--
In whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.
Abraham was not worthy of this honor, but it was conferred on him anyway; sovereignly, God chose to bless and use him and his family to bring Heaven and Earth together once again. In response to the Covenant, Abraham built God an altar, and there, however fleetingly, he and the Lord met. Abraham was a wealthy man, and I suppose he could have funded a fine Temple for the Lord, but this is not what He wanted, not yet.
Five hundred years later, though, God commissioned a Temple, showing Moses the plans and entrusting the work to Israel under the supervision of two gifted artisans, Bezaleel and Aholiab. Because the built the Temple for a people in the wilderness, it had to be mobile, and that means it had to be a tent, what the Bible calls The Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle was certainly a fine place, furnished with cunning workmanship in gold mahogany, and tapestry, but the fact is, it did not compare well to the splendid Temples in other ancient capitals. But then again, it didn't have to: whatever it lacked in size and magnificence it more than made up for in Divine Resident. Other temples were filled with idols, false gods, empty delusions. Israel's Temple was filled with God, the One True God--
Creator of Heaven and Earth and all things therein, visible and invisible!
The Lord was not confined to the Temple, of course, but He was there in a special and visible way. Not that His likeness could be seen there, but His glory could be. He entered the Temple at the foot of Mount Sinai, one year after the Exodus. Moses tells us when He did so--
On the first day of the first month.
On that day, the Tabernacle was pitched for the first time, and then something happened, Exodus 4):34-35--
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
Moses' inability to enter the tabernacle is worth nothing, for he knew the Lord face to face as no other man ever had, and had, in fact, glimpsed the back parts of God, a glory so great that it caused his face to glow with the radiance of Heaven.
But the glory descending on the Temple is much greater than that: not even Moses can look on it and life. God has come down to us, Heaven and Earth have met!
Some years after Israel settled in the Promised Land, King David thought it unfitting that he lived in a palace and God only in a tent. He wanted to build a house for God as worthy of His majesty as he could, but he was told he wouldn't. That great work would be performed by his son, Solomon.
After establishing his rule, Solomon spent seven years working on the Temple, sparing no effort or expense to see that it was a fit place for the Glory of God to reside on earth.
The place was magnificent! No one who came to Jerusalem in those days was unmoved by the great Temple and the Great God who dwelt there between the cherubim. God has come down to us again! Heaven and Earth have again met.
These were pivotal events in the history of Israel, celebrated every year and remembered with deep and lasting gratitude.
But as great as these comings were, there was also something wrong with them. God had come to earth and His glory had shone from the Tabernacle and Temple, but...the glory was hidden behind walls and heavy curtains. In fact, only one man per generation saw it and he only once a year and in real haste.
Abraham's altar, and the Tabernacle and Temple of Israel were mere hints of God's coming to earth, and the restoring of man to the favor and fellowship of Heaven.
We need something more than a flash of God's glory, however sublime that may be!
This is what Luke gives us in the second Chapter of his Gospel, vv.1-20. It is made up of three parts: (1) the birth of Christ, (b) the angels celebrating of His birth, and (c) the shepherds joining the celebration.
Today, we'll focus on the angels' celebration, but please remember: what they did is far, far less important than what God did. They're partying in Heaven and Earth, but their joy is in response to God's unspeakable gift.
Luke's story is a model of unaffected simplicity. Without embellishment--without hype--he plainly tells us what happened, where and when.
It was the year Augustus Caesar levied a tax on all his subjects. Like other politicians, he did this more than once, but Luke tells us which tax day he has in mind--
While Quirinius was governing Syria.
This is when it happened. Historians are not sure exactly when he did this, but they all know he did it, and Luke's first readers would have known the exact date, and felt it keenly in their wallets!
As for where it happened, Luke tells us that, too, it was in--
Bethlehem, the city of David.
I don't know it there was another Bethlehem at the time in that part of the world, but if there was, Luke makes sure we know which one he means. It's a suburb of Jerusalem, a few miles south, and of no real importance at the time. But though it was not an important place in the 1st Century AD, every devout Jew revered the town because their great king, David had been born there a thousand years before, and the prophet said a Greater King would be born there, too, David's Son, the Christ!
As for the cast of characters, they're an unimpressive lot. The father is Joseph, of David's house, but a house in shambles. The man who had the right to David's throne was instead working as a carpenter in the hillbilly town of Nazareth!
His betrothed wife was also of royal descent, but she was reduced to an equally humble status, also living in Nazareth, and maybe hiring herself out as a maid or babysitter or old woman's companion.
They were in town to pay their taxes, but because all the hotels were booked, they were stuck in a barn, and it was there--in a place more fit for a calf to be born than the Son of God--the Son of God was born, wrapped in the coarse fabric poor people lived in, and for lack of a crib or bassinet, laid in a manger.
This is what happened, really happened, happened in a real place at a real time with real people. There is a deeply spiritual meaning to the Lord's birth, but the birth itself was not spiritual! It was as physical and natural as your birth or mine! God was not 'beamed down' to the earth from the Starship Enterprise!
God was manifest in the flesh.
A real baby was born that day, a baby born King of the Jews--and not only the Jews.
As all this was happening in town, shepherds were keeping their sheep on some hillside a few miles away. Evidently, the men were friends or partners who gathered their own flocks together into one so that they could sleep in shifts while the others watched.
While they watched for wolves or mountain lions or rustlers, something else showed up! It was an angel of God, and they knew he was an angel because--
The glory of God shone around them.
Remember when Moses came down from Mount Sinai? Being in the Presence of God, the Bible says, his face shone as an angels...and the people were afraid.
If a man with an angel's radiance scared the whole people, including an army of stout soldiers, just imagine the terror that must have seized a small band of shepherds, armed with slingshots!
Seeing them cringe in fear, the angel issue a command--
If the shepherds knew their Bible, they must have been shocked by the command. For, while the coming of God was good for an obedient nation, a people in rebellion could only tremble before His offended Majesty. And that's what Israel was at the time--a rebellious people. The prophets warned--
Woe unto you who desire the day of the Lord...Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light? Is it not very dark with no brightness in it?
And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant...But who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears?
Surely the angel was a scout of God's avenging armies? No! He hasn't come to announce God's judgment, but His salvation!
The shepherds have nothing to fear because God was coming to save His people from their sin and misery; in fact, He already had come, and they could see Him for themselves, just look for a baby boy wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger!
The shepherds must have been mad for joy! For like Mary--but not Zacharias--they believed the angel's word, and hurried to town, found Joseph and Mary, saw the Baby and--
Made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
But before the angel dismisses them, he's got something to show them. A Heavenly Host appears: these are God's soldiers, angels wielding the powers of Heaven...But they haven't come to fight; they've come to sing--
Glory to God in the Highest
and on earth, peace good will
The word, glory, can mean one of two things: it can stand for the Divine Majesty, God's Splendor, or it can simply mean 'praise'. For many years, I thought it meant the former, but I've changed my mind; though both are doctrinally true, the latter fits the structure of the passage better.
The angels on earth are calling to their colleagues in Heaven to praise God for what He's done this day! If this is a choir, they're singing in parts, one answering the other. While we cannot hear the song of Heaven, it must be like the staggering hymns in Revelation, as for example--
Thou art worthy, O Lord,
To receive honor and glory and
power and riches!
Or the one of Isaiah 6--
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God Almighty;
All the earth is full of your
The Birth of Christ brings joy to Heaven! Because the angels rejoice in the things God rejoices in! And what does God rejoice in most? Luke knows--
There is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents.
In other words, no one rejoices in God's saving work more than God Himself! Have you ever heard a good testimony? I've heard a lot of bad ones--boring, derivative, puny. But once in a great while, you'll hear someone tell the story of God saving him--and it's like nothing you've ever heard in your life! Some laugh; some cry; some do both. But if sinners can rejoice in what God has done for them with all their hearts, remember this: Human hearts are finite; God's heart is infinite!
Because God rejoices in the birth of Christ and all it means for the world, the angels rejoice with Him. This is where the bigger end of the party is.
The smaller end is here on earth, where the birth of Christ means joy--of course--but more than that, it means--
will toward men.
The birth of Christ portends peace on earth and proves God's good will to man. It means God is for us; it means God has forgiven us; it means God has given us His Spirit; it means we have the sure hope of Heaven.
In a word, it means the Temple that was lost when God expelled man from Eden has come back to earth and without cherubim or their flaming swords to keep us away from the Tree of Life.
Jesus Christ is the Tree of Life and He urges us to eat of Him and live forever. We don't do this eating with our mouths, but with our faith, as we believe in Him, or trust Him we come to enjoy and possess Life Eternal, which is...
Knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
The angels are still singing; the saints in Heaven are still singing; and now we're invited to join them in their Song of Salvation
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