“And suddenly 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, good will toward men.””Luke 2:13-14
The birth of a child was a very special occasion in Israel, particularly if the child was a boy. It was a time of great joy. When the time of the birth was near, the friends and the local musicians gathered near the house. When the birth was announced and it was a boy, the musicians broke into music and song. They were rejoicing and congratulating the baby boy’s birth. When Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, it was impossible for the local musicians to greet Him with music and song. This ceremony could not be fulfilled for He was not born in the hometown of Mary, nor was He born in a home.1
But God saw to it that the angels of heaven took the place of the earthly musicians. Instead, the angels of heaven were employed to sing the songs that mortal man could not sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Is it not interesting, that the angelic choir sang not to the rich and famous, but to a few humble shepherds who were caring for their sheep? Shepherds were not a popular people: they had a bad reputation; they were unclean; they were thieves; they could not go to the temple.
However, these were very special shepherds, for they were temple shepherds. In the temple every morning and evening an unblemished lamb was offered as a sacrifice to God. They made certain there was a continuous supply. It is well known that these flocks were pastured near Bethlehem, and they were most likely in charge of the flocks from which the temple offerings were chosen. It is thought that these shepherds were in the same fields where David would have tended his father’s flocks and where he wrote Psalm 23.
What a lovely thought to think that these shepherds who sold sheep for the morning and evening sacrifices, were the first to see God’s Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He was the fulfillment of all the lambs that had ever been offered.
The world’s focus is not so much on “Glory to God” but rather, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” We want something substantive for ourselves. We want peace to accommodate our lifestyles and perhaps you ask, “Where is the promised peace and the goodwill toward men?” Do these words seem so hollow, like a mere illusion, an unfulfilled and baseless hope? Instead, do you see trouble and turmoil, raging in your personal life, world, and home? “Our trouble is we want the peace without the Prince.”2
This peace was promised, and this goodwill was proclaimed. But in all our longing for peace, we have overlooked the primary part of this verse; “Glory to God in the highest.” The problem is that we have thrown away the first part of the angelic message and kept only the “peace on earth, goodwill toward man.”
The angelic choir could not refrain from proclaiming the joyful words, “Glory to God in the highest.” The heavenly beings praised God for the glory that was now being manifested, the glory of the incarnate Son of God. That glory was shining forth in the Baby that had been born. A Savior had been born. God had been manifested, Emmanuel—God with us! This is the God of glory!
Remember what Mr. Jowett wrote, “Peace is not a detached creation, unrelated to anything else.” Let me say, peace is the result of a relationship. Paul wrote, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5: 1). Peace is the evidence, the result of a personal rightness with God. Is your heart right with God? An old Christmas song said, “Do you worship the Babe in the manger, but reject the Christ of the cross?” Paul wrote: “And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself…and you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled.” (Col. 1:20-21) Have you been reconciled to the Lord Jesus? This will bring glory to God and bring peace to your own heart and life. God is always concerned for His glory. The plan of redemption brought glory to God and our salvation brings glory to God as well.
When the Lord Jesus was born, the heavens could not contain themselves. The choir of heaven burst forth with praise, proclaiming the majesty, the glory, and the omnipotence of God—“a Savior had been born.” No one on earth had ever heard angels singing and praising God, except these few humble shepherds. The joy of these men was irrepressible. They could not contain their joy. These shepherds had seen the true Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the One who fulfilled all the sacrifices of their thousands of sheep. No wonder the shepherds returned, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen….” (Luke 2:20).
John writing in Revelation 5:12 heard the voice of many angels saying with loud voices, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” Then we will join them, and this will be our theme and song throughout all eternity, “Glory to God in the highest.”
I love the words of John Newton, “When He came, the angels sang, “Glory be to God on high!” Lord, unloose my stammering tongue—who should louder praise than I?”
At this Christmas season, may our stammering tongues be loosed and triumphantly sing, “Glory to God in the highest.”
- Thoughts derived from William Barclay, Luke’s Gospel
- Addison H. Leitch, Inspiring Quotations, p. 445