Savoring by Faith the PEACE and JOY of Christmas
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
who unto us His Son hath given!”
Thus angels sang with pious mirth
the gladsome tidings of His birth.
When we listen at Christmastime in particular to one famous choir after another singing the hymns and carols of the season, we marvel at the rich beauty which human voices, blending together in a harmonious tapestry of sound, can produce. And yet, in the annals of this world’s history, no chorus and no music could ever compare to “the multitude of the heavenly host praising God” on that first Christmas night. Indeed, the choir of holy angels which fulled the night air with glorious music celebrating the Savior’s birth was, as we sometimes say, “a hard act to follow” — both because the singers were perfect, sinless angels, and also because the occasion for which they were singing and the nature of their song was most particularly special.
We can’t of course, duplicate the sound of that heavenly choir electronically, nor can we even come close to approximating its splendor. But we can study and evaluate the lyrics of the angels’ song of praise and see in them the blessed effect of our Savior’s birth which caused the heavenly choir to break forth in gladsome voice. The effect is really twofold, as the angels sing of it: First, that all glory for this momentous event belongs to God alone; and secondly, that the benefits to be derived from Christ’s birth are for mankind alone.
“Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang; and no wonder! For the birth of the Savior in fulfillment of 4,000 years of sacred prophecy was an event solely of God’s doing. He had planned it before the foundation of the world; He alone had made it possible. It was His Gift, completely undeserved by its recipients, and it was the “unspeakable Gift” of His only-begotten Son to be the Redeemer of sinful and rebellious mankind. God Himself brought it about in the fulness of time that His only-begotten Son would become incarnate, taking upon Himself human flesh and blood, and that He would place Himself under His own Law to fulfill it in the place of sinners. Paul writes to the Galatians that “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law.” This event was indeed “a great and mighty wonder” of God’s amazing love for those who had rebelled against Him, disobeyed Him, and brought death and destruction upon themselves. Why He even bothered with the likes of us poor human beings is itself a mystery of divine love; “for God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation [the payment] for our sins.” God’s love was always like a one-way street — His love for us, who were His enemies, and who returned Him nothing but evil by nature. No wonder the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest” for His amazing love!
With our eyes riveted upon the image of the Baby Jesus lying there in Bethlehem’s rude manger, with our attention focused upon Christ, the Savior, beginning His state of humiliation with His conception in the Virgin Mary and with His birth under the lowliest of conditions in the stable at Bethlehem, it’s not surprising that many people regard Christmas as a festival in honor of God the Son, who came down to this world of sin to be our Savior. But, in reality, Christmas is in honor of God the Father, the Giver of His Son to be the scapegoat, the substitute for sinful men, and to lay down His life to redeem them from slavery to Satan. It is, after all, the Father’s Christmas Gift of love to all the world after which all our Christmas giving is to be patterned, and our appreciation for that Gift after which all our giving is to be motivated.
“Glory to God in the highest,” sang the multitude of the heavenly host. It was His plan, His promise through the prophets of old, His execution of the plan in the fulness of time, and His love that prompted it all! To Him goes the credit, the praise, and all the glory!.
But the angels’ song also shows us that the ultimate benefactor of this Gift of God’s love is mankind alone — the object of God’s love. The blessed effect of the Savior’s birth on that first Christmas night is, as the angels declared it, “peace on earth, good will toward men.” By sending His only-begotten Son to be our Redeemer, God “reconciled the world unto Himself,” the Bible tells us; He made us poor, helpless, miserable sinners —who were His enemies because of our transgressions of His holy Law— He made us His friends again by requiring of Jesus what He requires of us, perfect adherence to His Law, and by accepting Jesus’ perfect obedience and crediting it to our bankrupt account in the ledger of His justice. Then He also punished Jesus with the “wages of [our] sins” and accepted His suffering and death as payment-in-full of our debt to Him, so that no blot on our record with God would remain. Thus “[God] made Him, who knew no sin [His holy Son, our Savior], to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:21). And then, in consideration of all that Jesus accomplished on our behalf, God unilaterally reconciled the whole world unto Himself, no longer counting our sins against us. —Now, when we accept that objective or general forgiveness that God declared for the whole world in His “good will toward men,” when we cling in humble, childlike confidence to the merits of Christ, our Savior, then the benefits of that forgiveness are ours personally; and “being justified by faith,” Paul says in Romans 5, verse 1, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
THAT is the “peace” of which the angels sang —not peace among the nations! For earthly peace lasts only for the brief interval between wars; and that kind of peace isn’t worth having at the cost of our Savior’s peace. “Peace I leave with you,” He tells us, “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” His peace is peace of heart, peace of conscience, because of the forgiveness of our sins. “Peace on earth and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled!” we sing in the beloved Christmas hymn. That is lasting “peace on earth,” the enjoyment in this life already, by faith in Jesus, of God’s “good will toward men,” His good and gracious will to us in Christ Jesus “while we were yet enemies” and had no good will toward Him whatsoever.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” Let us take these “good tidings of great joy” sung by the angel choir into our hearts by faith, trust them as God’s own reliable message of peace, His peace and His good will, His everlasting mercy and grace to us and to all people. And let us then hasten with the shepherds of old to the manger-bed in Bethlehem’s stall —to the manger-bed of the sweet Gospel, where our Savior lies for us. Let us take Him up into our arms of faith, hold Him fast to our trembling breast, and pray:
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child,
make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for Thee!
And then may the true peace of Christmas, “the peace of God which passeth all understanding,” abide in our hearts by faith this holy season, throughout the coming year, and unto life everlasting!
—D. T. M.