This section of Scripture from Luke chapter 2 is likely familiar to all of you. Many of you likely memorized and recited it at some point in your lives as children. These verses are well-known out in the secular world too (we probably have Linus from the Charlie Brown Christmas movie to thank for that). And, I could be wrong, but I think perhaps in these verses the most well-known verse is verse 14, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” And in that most famous verse of this most famous section of scripture, the most famous word is probably the word “peace.”
That’s what’s Christmas is all about, right? Almost everyone knows Christmas is about peace on earth. Peace is on Christmas cards. Peace is the feeling everyone wants to feel on Christmas. Peace is what we want. So, naturally, at Christmas time, we make a beeline for this passage about peace. And have you ever noticed how Christmas devotions and meditations – sermons even – these things, during this time of year, are designed to appeal to our emotions. That’s why peace, and joy, and hope, those are the words you often see and hear, and these are the words we emphasize – I do this too, and will in fact do tonight. Why? Because we like it. They create a mood. That’s why just about anyone, including me, can sound eloquent and awe-inspiring this time of year. You just talk about some peace, and some angels, and a child, add a little pondering over some eggnog and we’re done.
Now, I’m all for feeling good, but you know how quickly those feel-good-feelings can last – not long at all! It’s kind of like your kids being bored with all their new toys three days into Christmas break. What was the point of buying all that stuff? So, today, while I’m sure we will get a bit emotional and I’m sure we will do some pondering, and, yes, we’re gonna talk about peace, I hope all of that stuff doesn’t distract us from this truth: this is no ordinary story, and this is no ordinary child.
I mean look at how this story starts. It starts with just a ton of detail. You got this decree from Caesar Augustus. He wants to take a census – he wants to tax people. Then you get this information about Joseph’s family which explains why he must take his nine-month pregnant fiancé on this 90+ mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Then there is the birth, “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Then you get those shepherds and their visit by the angels with the message, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Then those shepherds went, and they saw it…him…Jesus…he “was lying in the manger.”
The story doesn’t end there though, no, in verses 17 and 18 we find those shepherds telling others, “…they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” That last part always sticks out to me. Everyone who heard this story, they were amazed. This was no ordinary story…and it has stood the test of time.
2000+ years later – right now – people are still reading and telling and sharing this story. And 2000 years later the story still amazes. Books, sermons, and devotions have been dedicated to it year after year. Pop songs, remixes of old classics, and concerts have kept this story alive in song. It’s almost as if this story has changed the world, but how? Why were people so amazed at his story back then and why are we still amazed today? Well, go back to verse 14 and hear that loud company of angels proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
I’ve always missed this when I’ve read that verse, maybe you did too, but what that verse is saying is that there was ill-will toward or between, us and God – we were enemies. So, here these angels come along and say, “Glory to God because there is now peace.” Peace, not between us in this room, or among people on earth, but there is a peace between us and God. And if you’re lost, let me put it as plainly as I can by using that great hymn Hark the Herald Angels Sing, that great song by Charles Wesley, in the very first line we sing “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” That is the peace. A reconciliation,
This is what makes this no ordinary story. This is the story of God coming to us to bring us a peace that isn’t temporary or worldly, but a peace that is real and eternal. It is this objective true peace that God offers…to the world. And the world likes this idea of peace. We like it. Receiving this peace, however, requires that you admit you are at war. Our primary reaction to God is not ignorance or indifference, it is actual hostility, so we don’t need information or motivation to know God and have his peace. We need that reconciliation. And this unordinary story is all about how God gave it to you: through a child who was anything but ordinary.
This child was called the Savior, the Messiah, and Lord. And, yet even though his title spoke of greatness, his birth in a backwoods town called Bethlehem spoke of meekness. His mother, Mary – to little fanfare – took that child, her son, and she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough. It seemed like such a small insignificant thing, yet it was this small action that the angel called a “sign.” Something that would let the shepherds know that this, this was the child. But that sign of cloth and manger signified a greater truth about this child than to just mark him. That sign would be his way from his first breath to his last. Every day, until he breathed his last and was buried, he lived in humility; he humbled himself. He appeared ordinary, but he was anything but.
You see this wasn’t just the son of Mary. This was God’s Son, Immanuel, who came in the flesh to perform a task that no human could ever do. This child was born to die, to die for the sins of all people, to be the Savior of the world…to be your Savior and bring you that eternal peace, that reconciliation with God. He was no ordinary child.
Perhaps, that’s why we read that Mary “Treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Mary knew. She knew who this child was even before those shepherds came running in to see him. Yet, still, I’m sure she pondered the words of those strangers, just as she pondered her own experience with the angel Gabriel, and the dream of her husband Joseph. I’m sure she wondered too about that child (John the Baptist) who leaped for joy in the womb of her relative Elizabeth. All told these things gave Mary a rather complete story of salvation in her Son, the Savior of the world. She as the mother of this Savior had much to ponder. Her life would never be the same, but, you know, neither would ours…
Think about it. Ponder it for a moment like Mary. Ponder what this child would one day do. Ponder his future words of forgiveness and his actions of love. Ponder those steps toward the cross, the agony of loss, the death and sins cost. Ponder his grave but know it didn’t hold him. Now, ponder what it all means and treasure the answer. Peace, hope, joy. Those feel-good words. That’s what this all means.
These words, though, aren’t just feel-good words, because when they are connected to Christ, they are real, and they are powerful. Through Jesus, we are reconciled to God. We are not enemies; God is our Father, which gives us hope, not in a future here, but in one eternal with him in heaven, and knowing that we often pray that day comes soon. Finally, that fills us with joy. Not some temporary “Whoo!” but real lasting joy each and every day because I know my Savior.
It’s no wonder that those shepherds spread the word concerning Jesus. It’s no wonder that people were amazed at their story, and it’s no wonder that they couldn’t help but glorify and praise God for all that they had seen and heard because it was just as they had been told – God kept his promise. Jesus was born, and they were overjoyed at the news.
So it is that sometimes like Mary we ponder this story and who this child is and what he means for me, tonight, especially we might do that, but then there are those other times, where we can’t help but be the shepherds and we take this story and we take this child and we glorify God for all the things we have seen and heard, because they are true. It all happened just as we have been told. This is no ordinary story and thank God, this is no ordinary child. He is the Messiah, and he is the Lord. May we always praise his name!
Glory then…” Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Amen