Luke 2:8-20

How many angels did the shepherds encounter that Christmas night?  We know that there was

one angel who brought the good news concerning the birth of the Savior.  He is simply

identified as "an angel of the Lord."  He made the greatest announcement any angel ever made,

"Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the

City of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."  

Accompanying this angelic messenger was "a great company of the heavenly host."  This

unnumbered group was a part of the singing army of heaven.  That they were angels is obvious

from the reference in the text, "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven."  The word

"host" is the ordinary Greek word for a sizeable army.  It has as its background a Hebrew word

that is translated "host" in the Old Testament.  It, too, referred to an angelic army.  Whenever

"the host of heaven" made their appearance,  ordinarily they were involved in some struggle on

behalf of the people of God or some judgment upon the people of God. There is no way to over

estimate the power and potential of this heavenly army whenever they are involved in a human

struggle.  It only took one soldier from that army to devastate the army of Sennacherib and to

leave a hundred and eighty-five thousand dead soldiers lying on the field of battle after only one

night of struggle.  It only took one such angel to bring devastation upon the nation of Israel when

God moved against them in judgment during the reign of King David.  This is the only occasion

that the army appears on Earth in their role as a choir.  Their responsibility in heaven

ordinarily is to serve as a  choir offering praise to God.  So what we have in the heavenly host is a

singing army.  It brings before us one of the basic functions of the angels - they sing the praises

of God.   

I want us to take this familiar part of the Christmas story to learn something more about the

angels and its significant lesson for our lives.  


This is one of the most surprising things in the Christmas story.  Throughout

Biblical history every appearance of the heavenly army on the earth had been on some mission

of  death and destruction.  This time they are on the earth as the heavenly choir.  Their time in

the presence of God in heaven is taken up with the singing of His praises.  We have notable

examples of this both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.  This appearance in this

particular setting is of great significance.

1.  The scene is not the temple.  

If the singing army is to make an appearance on earth and give a brief concert, is it not logical to

expect that they will do this in the temple at Jerusalem?  There was a human choir that sang the

praises of God generation after generation in the temple at Jerusalem.  The temple is the place

where religious leaders of the land of Israel congregate to do their service to God.  The fact that

the singing army did not give its brief concert in the temple at Jerusalem is a judgment on the

temple.  It indicates that the God of heaven is by-passing the religious structures of Israel in

bringing His Messiah into the world.  He evidently does not consider the religious leaders

to be the proper subjects to hear this brief concert.  That the religious leaders of the people

of God could slip into such a decadent state that when God is getting ready to do something

significant He would by-pass them needs to be a warning to all of us who are involved in the

spiritual leadership of our day.  

2.  The scene is in a field with some shepherds.  

In many of our Christmas dramas we include the shepherds.  We usually have several shepherds

to convey the idea of what happened that night.  There may not have been more than two or three

in company that night.  But they are the ones who are allowed to hear the earthly

concert of this heavenly choir.  This says something about the purpose of God at this point in


The shepherds should be seen as representing the common and ordinary people.  They would

have been held in contempt by the leaders of the religious structures in Jerusalem.  Shepherds

were considered ceremonially unclean since their life style made it impossible for them to live

by all the rules that the religious leaders had put in place.  They would not be welcome in the

temple to hear any concert by any choir.  So God sends the singing army to give their brief

concert to a place outside of the temple.   The concert is shared with people of the ordinary

way of life.  It is a reminder to us that the mission of Jesus into the world was not to save the

religious structures of the day, but it was rather to save sinners.  We must not forget that this

aspect of His mission has not changed.  He is more likely to have a heart for someone who

would be considered outcast by us than He is for those of us who have worked so hard at

achieving a certain level of respectability.  

The scene for this brief concert is in itself a part of the good news.  Christmas is bringing joy to

those who have had very little earthly opportunity to ever know joy.  


Their anthem was rather brief.  "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rest."  
What were they singing?  What is the essence or the theme of their anthem?  It obviously divides itself into two
statements.  The first is concerned with God in heaven; the second is concerned with man on earth.

1.  The glory of God in heaven.
We should see in this brief anthem sung by the singing army a statement concerning what is to be accomplished by
the mission of the Messiah.  As a result of the coming of the Baby born in Bethlehem, there is to be "glory to God in
the highest."  The primary result of the mission of Jesus in the earth will be to reveal to humankind the essence of
the Divine Being and to bring great glory to God in the highest.  In this statement we are to understand "in the
highest" as referring to heaven itself.  Because the Messiah, the Son of God, came to earth, there will be great
praise and honor and glory given to God in heaven.  This singing army is sensitive to who God is and what God
has done and they are prepared to acknowledge who God is and the glory of what He has done in their Christmas

2.  Peace to man on earth.

The second statement in the Christmas song indicates that something is to take place on earth.  We should see
earth standing in contrast to the highest.  The thing that is to take place involves men and this is to be seen in
contrast to God.  Something is to happen in heaven in reference to God and then something is to happen on earth
with reference to man.  The thing that is to happen on earth with reference to man is "peace."  

The inclusion of peace in their Christmas song refers to peace in a comprehensive sense.  The mission of Jesus is
to bring peace with God to men.  His mission is to reconcile God and sinful man.  Because of His mission to earth,
lost human beings will now be able to draw nigh to God and enter into a relationship with God that is best described
as "peace."
When man knows peace with God, then he begins to know the peace of God.  The peace of God includes a man
coming to peace with himself.  This is the experiential side of peace.  When through the Lord Jesus we are
reconciled to God, it removes those destructive and negative thoughts we have about ourselves and replaces them
with a sense of acceptance, even being under the favor of God.  
The peace even goes a step further for when men are at peace with God and at peace with themselves, then it
becomes possible for them to be at peace with others.  The family and the home benefits from us being at peace
with God.  The business and market place benefit from us being at peace with God.  The community benefits from
us being at peace with God.  The world benefits from us being at peace with God.  When we are not a peace with
God, we tend to be at war with ourselves and with others.  

Those who are to know this peace on earth are those "on whom His favor rests."  The old version translated this,
"Goodwill toward men."  This new translation gives emphasis to the fact that the good will is God's good will.  Those
who know the peace of God are those upon whom God has set His heart and to whom He has extended His grace.  
It is when we come under the grace of God, even the favor of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, that we know the
peace with God.  

We must never forget that even though our world only dreams about peace, peace is still a possibility through the
Lord Jesus Christ.  In their Christmas anthem the singing army celebrated this accomplishment on the part of the
Messiah that was born that day.  He was born to be "The Prince of Peace."  Because of His mission into the world
our God is now known as "the God of peace."  Peace is a possibility for you personally because Jesus came.   
Peace is a possibility in our world because Jesus came.  

So the subject of their Christmas song related to God and man,  heaven and earth, glory and peace.

What significance are we to see in this brief concert given by the singing army on the hills just outside of
Bethlehem.  There seems to be two points of real significance.

1.  A sign.

The army made this musical mission to earth as a sign of the significance of the birth of the Son.  Holy God wanted
it known on earth that what was happening in the stable outside of the inn in Bethlehem was of eternal and
heavenly significance.  The concert was in honor of the occasion.  This singing army doesn't sing for county fairs,
or inaugurations of presidents. Its concerts are reserved for those significant points of redemptive history.  This is
the moment that is best described as "the fullness of time."  In order to make it known to the citizens of earth that
something significant is happening, God sent His heavenly singing army to give this brief concert there on the
Judean hills.  
2.  A sample.
I had an interesting thought as I was meditating on this passage the other day.  Have you ever had the experience
of priming a pump?  Even though it rained often in the part of Tennessee in which I grew up, drinking water was a
rare commodity.  It was a very precious commodity.  The country school where I went to school had only one
source of water.  There was an old well out in front of the school with an old fashioned iron pump on it.  Sometimes
the pump would become dry and the leather piece that created the suction that pulled the water up would shrink.  
The best way to get the pump to operate in those circumstances was to prime it.  You would take some water, pour
it into the pump and then begin to work the handle.  It would swell the leather and would be used to prime the
pump.  Soon when you poured in the water, and worked the handle, fresh water would begin to flow from the pump.
 It occurred to me that this was what God was doing when He sent the singing army to give this brief concert there
in Judea.  He wanted to prime the pump of the human spirit and to cause human beings to begin to sing the praises
of His name and to express the proper response to the coming of His Son to earth.  

His strategy worked.  As you read the text you find that these shepherds who heard the brief concert went to
search out for themselves to see if what the angels had said was really true.  When they came to Bethlehem and
found Mary and Joseph with the new born Son on that Christmas morning, Luke reports that they responded with
joy.  "The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were
just as they had been told."  Before Christmas day was over there was not only a heavenly choir singing the
praises of the one born to Mary, there was an earthly choir.  It was made up of humble men who had seen for
themselves the new born Babe and had embraced for themselves the message of the angel that He was "Christ the
Lord."  Because of the joy that's in their hearts they are giving glory to God and offering praise to His worthy name.
 The Father started earth to singing the praise of the Son by sending the singing army for its brief concert.  

Almost without interruption since that first Christmas morning there's been a company of people somewhere on the
earth prepared to lift their voices in praise.  There has been a company who were ready to sing with the angels,
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."

As we celebrate Christmas 1995 I want to say it - I am ready to be a part of such a company this Christmas.  
Because of what God did in Christ, He is worthy of our praise.  Because of what God the Son did in His mission on
earth, He is worthy of the praise of my lips.  Because of what God the Holy Spirit did in sustaining God the Son in
His mission to the earth, He is worthy of my praise.  I don't feel the need for any new priming this morning for there
is flowing forth from my spirit spontaneously and gladly praise to the name of the Lord.  Are you prepared to join
me not only on this day but in every day of life in singing of the goodness, grace, and glory of our God so that all
may know what He has done in the Son?