THE ANGELIC ANTHEM
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Louis Pasteur, the French chemist, was the first to suspect that man's major enemies were invisible. He advanced the theory that all disease is caused by microscopic organisms called germs. His theory was challenged because some diseases like rabies produced no germs. He concluded that these particular germs were just too small to be seen by the microscopes of that day. In other words, he was saying some invisible things are more invisible than others.
Thirty years later the Dutch botanist, Martinus Beijerinck, filtered out all the germs from a diseased tobacco plant's juices, and yet the juice still produced the disease in a healthy plant. He called this disease-causing liquid a virus, from the Latin word for poison. This term eventually came to designate these smaller than germs trouble makers.
In 1931, bacteriologist determined that these viruses were smaller than the smallest cells. They are so small they are on the borderline between something and nothing. Yet these invisible realities have become one of the biggest issues of modern times. Science, the media, the medical world and the masses all believe in the reality of these invisible creatures. You would have a hard time finding a person who is skeptical about the reality of the virus. Yet we live in an age where millions are skeptical about the reality of angels.
The small and invisible are acceptable, but the big and invisible are too much to swallow for the doubter. It is too great a paradox to be large and still not be detectable to the senses of man. It makes sense to be hidden in minuteness, but to be hidden in hughness is illogical. And so, the non-believer writes off the whole world of the supernatural, which includes God and His angels. Modern man is not necessarily happy with this choice, however. Norman Gary in one of his novels says, "you got rid of God and isn't it funny, something is still missing."
There are many Christians who also feel uneasy about angels. They have a strange malady of angelophobia-the fear of angels. They are embarrassed by angels. But Christmas forces angels on us, and there is no escape from them. They are in stores, on cards, on trees, on TV, in songs, and most of all, in God's revelation of the Christmas story. Amidst this awesome avalanche of angels we are forced to acknowledge them, and somehow assimilate them into our world view. We want to look at the angels and the Christmas story, and see just how relevant they are to the Christmas story, and thus to God's plan of salvation. The first thing we want to focus on is-
I. THE ANGELS APPEARANCE.
Verse 9 says, an angel of the Lord appeared to them. You can find a lot of places where an angel of the Lord appears in the Bible, but you will have a hard time finding a text where the angel of the Lord is joined by a great company of the heavenly host. Angels usually operate alone. They are messengers, and like human messengers they are loners. The messengers of ancient history were usually runners who ran alone, and not in a group. The pony express did not send out a group of riders, but each covered his territory alone. When God sent His messengers from heaven, one was a great plenty to get the job done. But here on the first Christmas we see a very unusual event. The angel of the Lord is not left to sing a solo, but is backed up by the greatest angelic choir that ever appeared on earth.
John heard this choir in heaven where they were praising God on their own turf. But never had anyone ever heard this angelic choir on earth. Heaven's music is breaking through the barrier between time and eternity, and men on earth are hearing heaven's sound. The only other record of their performing was at creation. There were no humans in existence to hear them at that time. So their singing at Christmas is a once in a history exclusive performance.
If some great singing group stopped their tour bus on a country road to sing for a few cow-hands in the field, that event would make big news. Famous singing groups just don't do such things. But here is the greatest singing group in all the universe making their first earthly appearance, not at Herod's castle, not in the temple, not in Rome, but in a field outside tiny Bethlehem. Their audience was not the dignitaries of the nation, but a handful of lowly shepherds.
The real wonder is that they appeared at all. The fact that they did makes it clear that from God's point of view the birth of His Son was the greatest event in human history. This angelic anthem was a guarantee that this would be the most celebrated birthday the world had ever seen. Their presence is just another factor in making this a one of a kind event. Jesus was a one of a kind baby, born to a one of a kind mother, for a one of a kind plan of salvation. It is fitting that the angels would at His birth make a one of a kind appearance.
Some say the angels are not relevant. They remind me of Whately who wrote about what he heard at the Grand Canyon, "Turning away from the sunset serenade of gorgeous colors bouncing off the Grand Canyon, a young woman said disdainfully to her companion, it just isn't relevant." Whately had to agree that from a strictly survival point of view the sunset and the Grand Canyon are not relevant. Violets and Orchids and most of the beauty of creation are not relevant to survival. But man does not live by bread alone. There is more to life than food and clothing and money in the bank if that is what you mean by relevant.
Man has more than a body to feed. He has a mind and a soul, and he needs a diet that nourishes the whole man. He needs mystery for the mind, and wonder for the soul, and this is where the angels become relevant. Their presence in Christmas guarantees that it will never lose it's wonder, for they add the supernatural touch. There is not much about Christmas that is wondrous if you just look at the earthly scene. Stables are not known for their aesthetic value. The whole scene is very commonplace and earthly. If it was not for the appearance of the angels, the only sign of heavenly involvement in this story would be the star. They were the only living supernatural beings involved in the story. They keep it in the realm of wonder.
One of my granddaughters favorite songs is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Some day she will be able to sing the more scientific version-
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
I don't wonder what you are.
What you are I know quite well
And your component parts can tell.
That loss of wonder will never happen with angels, because we can never analyze angels adequately. They will be, until eternity, a source of mystery and wonder. That is their role in God's plan. They keep Christmas a day of mystery and wonder forever. There was a good reason why God chose this event for the greatest angelic choir ever. Albert Einstein once remarked that, " the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder, and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead: His eyes are closed." The appearance of the angels in the Christmas story assure us that there will always be wonder connected with this awesome event.
Dr. Luke tells us there were a multitude of the heavenly host. This was one of his favorite words. He used it 23 times. All other New Testament writers only used it 7 times altogether. He is making it clear that this was no trio or even a sextet- this was a great multitude of angels. He was trying to make an impression here. It was his style. He wants us to get a sense of the staggering involvement of heaven in this earthly event.
Angels and archangels gathered there
Cherubim and Saraphim thronged the air.
This never happened before, and will not likely ever happen again on earth. This was the greatest angelic appearance of all time. And because it is so, it helps to make Christmas the greatest time of wonder and celebration. Next, lets look at -
II.THE ANGEL'S ADORATION.
The song of the angels sets the tone for all others who come on the stage of the Christmas drama. The angels adore Christ, and so we see the shepherds also adore Christ, and so do the wise men. To adore is to worship with intense devotion. Adoration is the key ingredient in the atmosphere of Christmas. The angels add wonder, but they also lead the way in worship as well. There is no need to wonder about what Jesus most wants for His birthday. There is no gift we can give better than what the angels gave that first Christmas-adoration.
We may not have treasures of glory or gold,
Or perfumes to pour at His feet,
But, oh, if we knew of the worth of the Christ,
We would give Him our homage complete!
Our cherished desires we would open anew
And yield Him our hearts and our all;
As incense we'd offer our praises to Him,
Adoring, before Him would fall!
The Savior is worthy of all we can give,
Whatever our coffers may hold;
Oh, may we then pour out our treasures to Him
And worship as they did of old!
These angels do not even need salvation, for they are not lost, yet they are praising God for His gift as if they were part of the redeemed. This tells us a lot about how angels feel about man. Unlike the unseen virus which only has an interest in man's destruction, these unseen beings care about man and his salvation. They are not jealous that God has given His very best for man. They do not have envy, and fight the plan of God to populate heaven with these fallen beings. Instead, they sing as never before, with pure adoration of the love of God.
Angels are our friends, and they are on the side of light against darkness. We are not alone in this universe. There are a vast host of intelligent unfallen beings who care about our salvation, and lead the way in praising God for providing us with a Savior. If you want the true Christmas spirit, then listen to the angels. The very essence of Christmas is adoration. We do not know what Christmas is until we feel the need to praise God. To sing glory to God in the highest with the angels is where it is at. This means we need to have received God's gift, and taken His Son as our Savior. Only those who have done so can know the true spirit of adoration.
Giving and being generous, and having a great time in spreading cheer and happiness are all virtues, and we do not want to knock them, but we need to see they fall short of the real spirit of Christmas. They are side effects of adoration. If you do not start where the angels started your Christmas can never be what God intended. We need to think-Glory to God. We need to feel-Glory to God. We need to sing-Glory to God. Horatius Bonar wrote-
Glory be to Him who loved us
Washed us from each sinful stain;
Glory be to Him who made us
Priests and kings with Him to reign;
Glory, worship, laud, and blessing
To the Lamb who once was slain.
"Glory, worship, laud, and blessing"-
Thus the choir triumphant sings;
"Honor, riches, power, dominion"-
Thus its praise creation brings;
Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy,
Lord of lords and King of kings.
Glory to the King of angels,
Glory to the Church's King,
Glory to the King of nations,
Heaven and earth His praises sing;
Glory ever and for ever
To the King of Glory bring.
Christmas means salvation to man, but it means Glory to God, and it is never complete unless God gets adoration. If you want to give God the very best you can give, then follow the angels and give Him adoration. We need songs to adequately express adoration. Love songs are so popular because love needs music for its highest expression. The loving heart needs a poem and a tune. Love needs to be sung. That is what adoration is. It is love expressed in a song. Phillips Brooks wrote long ago-
The earth has grown cold with its burden of care
But at Christmas it always is young,
The heart of the jewel burns lustrus and fair;
And its soul full of music breaks forth on the air,
When the song of the angels is sung.
If the heavenly host sang as never before, and they were not even saved by the Savior they sang of; how much more ought we, who are saved by Him, be filled with songs of adoration? Let us remember that the appearance of the angels tells us Christmas is the greatest day of wonder in history. The adoration of the angels tells us, the best we can give to God in response to His gift to us, is the gift of worship and praise. Let us learn from these invisible friends that a true celebration of Christmas will involve wonder and worship. This is the message of the angelic anthem.