Luke 2:13
The strange and elevating experience through which the shepherds of Bethlehem were passing prepared them for a scene which was fitted to awaken still greater surprise and spiritual excitement. For suddenly, all of them appearing together, a multitude of the heavenly host began to make angelic music; strains of sweetest song filled the air, and the words of that celestial chant, so exquisitely sweet, so full of comfort and of hope to our human race, were fixed in the shepherds' mind; they found a place in the sacred record; they make melody in our ear today. The scene and the song suggest to us -

I. THE INTEREST WHICH THE ANGELIC TAKES IN THE HUMAN WORLD. It is a striking and significant fact that the advent of Jesus Christ to our world should be preluded and accompanied by the ministry of angels (Luke 1:11, 26; Luke 2:9). It confirms the truth elsewhere indicated that the history of mankind is the subject of deep interest to the holy intelligences of heaven. They inquire with a pure and heavenly curiosity into the relations of God with man (1 Peter 1:12). They reverently admire the wisdom of God in his dealings with his human children (Ephesians 3:10). They rejoice over the smallest accession to the kingdom of God (Luke 15:10). They expend their powers in the accomplishment of God's will concerning us (text, and Hebrews 1:14). Our Savior is One in whom they also have profound interest, though they need not his redemption, and their worship of him is a large clement in their celestial joy (Ephesians 1:10; Revelation 5:11-13).

II. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST AN EPOCH IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Well might a multitude of the heavenly host chant those words of the text, "Glory to God in the highest;" well might they join in the high praises of the King of heaven. For when Jesus Christ came as he thus came, in lowliness of perfect humiliation (ver. 7), that the world into which he thus entered as a helpless babe might be redeemed and restored (vet. 10), two things were done.

1. The exceeding greatness of the Divine grace received its most wonderful illustration. Possibly - may we not say probably?-even the records of the kingdom of God contained no event illustrative of a more magnanimous pity and a more sacrificial love than this expression of "good will to men."

2. The foundation was ]aid on which a Divine kingdom of truth and righteousness should be reared. On the rock of the Divine incarnation rests the whole grand edifice of the restoration of the human race to the love and the likeness of God. Then indeed, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the glory of God was most fittingly celebrated; for then was the glory of his grace manifested, and then was the glory that should be rendered him by our humanity assured.

III. THE COMING OF CHRIST TO OUR WORLD THE INCOMING OF ITS PEACE. "Peace on earth." It has taken long for the work of Jesus Christ to bring about this result, even as things are today. And how much remains to be done! To some eyes it may seem as if only the elementary lesson had been learned. But if we look long enough and deep enough we shall see:

1. That the gospel of Jesus Christ has been, and is, offering to every burdened human heart a peace which is immeasurably profound and inestimably precious.

2. That the teaching and the Spirit of Jesus Christ are perfectly fitted to inculcate and to inspire peace, and even love, between man and man.

3. That under his benign government, and just so far as his will is consulted, man is leaving strife and discord below and behind him, and is moving on an upward path toward the sphere where peace and purity dwell together. - C.







With the angel a multitude of the heavenly host.
I. CONSIDER THE PASSAGE AS IT LIES BEFORE US IN THE HISTORY.

II. MAKE SOME PRACTICAL REMARKS UPON THE SUBJECT.

1. If this be the song and taste and sentiment of heaven, what is the taste and sentiment of the men of the earth who call themselves wise, and call us fools for believing the Bible?

2. We learn from the song that no goodwill from heaven can be communicated to man, nor any peace on earth, but what is consistent with the glory of God.

3. Herein are afforded sufficient encouragement and direction to every believing heart.

(R. Cecil, M. A.)

In that distant age, as by no means since, the ministry of angels was familiar to the human mind — was required to answer, in fact, the necessities of human thought. On occasions infinitely less important than the birth of One whose name should be called Jesus, the Saviour, the angels then came and went in the universe freely, because in mind and for mind the universe was what it was. Since then not one has come. So the impression made then by its being said that this event was made illustrious by the attendance of a multitude of the heavenly host, and that which is made now, cannot be wholly the same. With all our ideas of the universe, it is infinitely more wonderful now than it was then. As it is so much more wonderful, it is so much more difficult to realize in thought. And so it is with reference to all else that is wonderful in the story of that birth to which the thoughts of the best part of the human race go back as to no other event in all human history. The modes of thought and of expression with regard to all that are unchanged by the lapse of ages — in the letter unchanged — but are they actually the same in spirit to us as they were in another age under cruder and almost opposite conditions of human thought? So shadowy has the angelic host become to mortal men now, to whom in their direst need or in their loftiest ecstasies no angels come, that the joy of that angelic host over the birth of the Saviour of mankind, so far from communicating itself to the Christian world of to-day, as it did once, is never felt save at Christmas, and then it would be hard to say by whom. This is not as it should be. To the thought of Christian men and women eighteen centuries ago the angelic host and their joy were real. Why should they not be so to our thought too? That these men and women were even as we are is the key to all history. With all that there is in our modern modes of thought to make the supernatural seem to us in fact, however it may be in name, one and the same thing with the incredible or faintly believed — with all that there is of this in our modern modes of thought, that which is in them, too, of a powerful apprehension of the idea of Christ's life as the most signal manifestation of the Divine, is enough, if it be only well and truly considered, to make the angelic host and their song as real to us as ever they were to any generation of men — much more real, at any rate, than they have been to many in this generation.

(J. Service, D. D.)

Music has been called the speech of angels. I will go further and call it the speech of God Himself. Without words it is wonderful — blessed — one of God's best gifts to men. But in singing you have both the wonders together, music and words. Why is there music in heaven? Because in music there is no self-will. It goes on certain laws and rules which man did not make, but has only found out. Music is a pattern of the everlasting life of heaven, because in heaven, as in music, is perfect freedom and perfect pleasure; and yet that freedom comes not from throwing away law, but from obeying God's law perfectly; and that pleasure comes not from a self-will, and doing each what he likes, but from perfectly doing the will of the Father who is in heaven. And that in itself would be sweet music, even if there were neither voice nor sound in heaven. Some of us may not be able to make music with our voices; but we can make it with our hearts, and join in the angel's song this day, if not with our lips, yet in our lives. Christmas has always been a day of songs, of carols, and of hymns; and so let it be for ever. For on Christmas Day, most of all days (if I may talk of eternal things according to the laws of time) was manifested on earth the everlasting music which was in heaven.

(Charles Kingsley.)

American Horniletic Review.
There are two classes of persons between whom a mutual distrust exists, because they fail to appreciate each other's attitude toward the events of the universe.

I. The first class expects all things to come to pass gradually, so that their courses may be traced. The motive of this class is intellectual; the mind wants to correlate facts. Sudden transitions, having been hitherto supposed to argue the absence of natural causes, are unwelcome to the scientific mind.

II. The other class cares little for natural causes, but rather delights in things supposed to be unexplainable by any but extra-natural interventions. It knows that worship is the highest exercise of the mind, and it desires sudden and mysterious events to quicken the feeling of reverence.

III. Between these extremes our text mediates by affirming the sudden occurrences, but associating them by a copulative, rather than an adversative conjunction with the things that went before them. In this it has the authority of many scientific men (notably Dr. Maudsley), who assert that there are indeed leaps and sudden changes and specific differences, while they assign them to natural causes, thus contrasting them only with other events and things, not with nature as a whole, and connecting them copulatively instead of adversatively with other phenomena. Nor does this destroy the value of such events as calls to worship. The surprise caused by a sudden event often wakes up a sleeping sense of reverence whether the event is explainable or not. God means to surprise us, but He does not mean to put us to confusion. The scientific mind is compelled by the facts to concede the actual occurrence of sudden and surprising events. With the universe full of God the devout mind can afford to concede the presumptive universality of natural causes. Science has kept saying "not suddenly;" religion has reiterated "but suddenly;" the Bible calmly says "and suddenly." The "and" suits science, the "suddenly" suits religion. Let us seek to be devout and scientific both, and sing with spirit and understanding.

(American Horniletic Review.)

The manner and spirit in which we ought to spend Christmas.

I. LET US ASCRIBE GLORY TO GOD. The Lord incarnate is placed before us; the Conqueror of Satan; the Saviour of man is thus revealed. Surely, if our hearts can be touched by the motive of gratitude to God for His mercies, we must feel it in the commemoration of the arrival of His Son. Surely we must feel some inclination this day to join the angelic host in "blessing, praising, and magnifying His Holy Name."

II. LET US SPREAD PEACE ON THE EARTH. All animosities should cease. If God desire to be at peace with us, let us imitate the heavenly pattern set us at Bethlehem. All is peace in heaven, and it is our duty to promote it on earth.

III. LET US EXERCISE GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN.

IV. Let me impress upon you TO MAINTAIN, when this day and year have been added to the past, and even to the end of your lives, THE SEVERAL GRACES TO WHICH I HAVE ADVERTED. Becoming as they are at this season, they become us always.

(A. Garry, M. A.)

I. THE SONG ITSELF.

I. The song consists of a proclamation of peace. We are in a state of hostility and alienation. Not an easy thing to restore peace, consistently with the Divine nature and glory. Not only is the birth of Christ the occasion of a proclamation of peace between us and God, but it restores peace to our own mind. There is also peace made with our fellows and neighbours and kindred, and with the whole creaturely universe.

II. THE SONG AS SUNG ON THIS OCCASION — that is, as sung by ANGELS.

1. They are the most intellectual part of God's creation; they have the purest intellect.

2. Observe not merely their intellectuality by their disinterestedness and impartiality. We are ourselves interested in the whole affair; not so with them. They were never polluted.

3. Their unanimity in singing it. There was no jarring string in that song; no dissenting voice in that harmony. Salvation affects heaven as well as earth.Lessons:

1. A lesson of gratitute to God.

2. Kindness to each other, especially the poor.

(J. Beaumont, D. D.)

His own appearance was despicable; that of His retinue was most magnificent. He who was the ancient of days became a helpless infant: He who was the light of the sun, comes into the world in the darkness of the night: He who came that He might lay us in the bosom of the Father, is Himself laid in the manger of a stable. But though meanly welcomed on earth, yet heaven makes abundant amends for all.

I. For the first it is said that AN INNUMERABLE COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST PRAISED GOD. Strange that they should make this day of heaven's humiliation their festival and day of thanksgiving.

1. The holy angels rejoiced at the birth of Christ, because it gave them occasion to testify their deepest humility and subjection. To be subject to Christ while He sat upon the throne of His kingdom, arrayed with unapproachable light, controlling all the powers of heaven with a beck, was no more than His infinite glory exacted from them: but to be subject to Him in a cratch, when He hid His beams, was not obedience only but condescension. Now the time is come when they may express their fidelity and Obedience in the lowest estate of their Lord.

2. The angels rejoiced at the birth of Christ because the confirmation of that blessed estate of grace and glory, wherein they now stand, depended upon His incarnation. The government of all creatures is laid upon His shoulders. He is the "head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:10; Ephesians 1:10). The Mediator confirms them in their holy estate; therefore they rejoiced at the birth of Christ, wherein they saw the Godhead actually united to the human nature; since the merit of this union, long before that, prevailed for their happy perseverance.

3. The holy angels rejoiced at the birth of Christ, from the fervent desire they have of man's salvation.

II. WHAT THIS ANGELICAL SONG CONTAINS IN IT?

1. God's glory. God's glory is of two sorts, essential and declarative. The abasing nativity of Jesus Christ is the highest advancement of God's glory. This is a strange riddle to human reason, for God to raise His glory out of humiliation.(1) In the birth of Christ God glorified the riches of His infinite wisdom. This was a contrivance that would never have entered into the hearts either of men or angels. It is called the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). The question was how to satisfy justice in the punishment of sinners, and yet to gratify mercy in their pardon.(2) The birth of Christ glorified the almighty power of God. Is it not almighty power that the infinite Godhead should unite to itself dust and ashes, and be so closely united, that it should grow into one and the same person.(3) By the birth of Christ God glorified the severity of His justice. His Son must rather take flesh and die than that this attribute should remain unsatisfied.(4) By the birth of Christ the truth and veracity of God is eminently glorified, by fulfilling many promises and predictions.(5) The birth of Christ glorifies the infinite purity and holiness of God.(6) Hereby the infinite love and pity of God are eminently glorified.

2. Peace on earth.(1) Peace mutually, between man and man.(2) Peace internally, with a man's self, in the region of his own spirit and conscience.(3) Peace with God. Christ was sent into this world as a minister of peace, as a mediator of peace.(a) All the precepts of His doctrine do directly tend to the establishing of peace among men. Christianity teaches us not to offer any injury to others. Christ forbids private revenge and retaliating of wrongs.(b) The examples of Christ all tend to peace. But Christ says (Matthew 10:34, 35), we must distinguish between the direct end of Christ's coming into the world and the accidental issue of it.

3. The infinite love and goodwill that God hath shown towards men.(1) If you consider the Person sent, this will exalt the goodness of God toward us. He lay under no necessity of saving us.(2) Consider the manner and circumstances of Christ's coming into the world, then will appear the infinite love and goodwill of God. That Christ was sent, as from the Father, freely: as to Himself, ignominiously.(3) The infinite goodwill of God in sending Jesus Christ into the world appears to be glorious and great, if you consider the persons to whom He was sent. This love is pitched upon froward, peevish, and rebellious creatures.(4) It is evident from these many great benefits, of which, by Christ's coming, we are made partakers.

(E. Hopkins, D. D.)

May not sundry ceremonies be left out, say they, and yet our religion be sound and entire? Indeed, our ceremonies are not necessary in themselves we grant it; why, and what if such great cathedral churches had not been built, nor such rich costly ornaments bestowed upon the roof, upon the choir, upon the Communion Table, might not prayers be read, and sermons preached with poorer habiliments and in meaner places? Well, no man denies but God was faithfully served in dens, and rocks, and caves of the earth, when the apostles and prophets were persecuted. Besides, there are that complain, when one minister may sufficiently and audibly read service to the congregation: frustra fit per plura, what a needless thing it is, to have a choir of singers discharge that, which ordinarily is no more than one man's labour? They that make these objections, let them consider what errors they fall into. They may as well tax God Himself for sending a multitude of angels to congratulate the birth of His Son, when two or three would have done the business; for out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be justified. Why should a reasonable man think it fit to glorify God with bare scanty provision? God hath given us full measure of all His blessings, and running over; therefore no decent ceremony is superfluous, no rich ornament too gorgeous, no strain of our wit too eloquent, no music too sweet, no multitude too great to advance His name, who hath exalted us by the humiliation of His Son, and made us capable to live with angels in heaven, because Christ was content to lie among beasts in a manger.

(Bishop Hacker.)

And remember that there is no variation or change in God; as He appointed many angels to sing out His birth, so to this time and for ever He loves to be glorified by multitudes. Let two or three be gathered together in His name rather than one separatist alone; but if you will multiply those two or three to hundreds, to thousands Of souls, O then His desire is upon them that fear Him, and upon those thwackt congregations that call upon His name. He that invited the guests in the Gospel did not think his feast well bestowed till his room was full; therefore he bid his servants scour the highways and bring them in, that his number might be augmented. I commend your private exercises of prayer between God and your own heart, that your Father that sees you devout in secret may reward you openly: but those prayers which you would have most prosperous and successful, send them up in the thickest press of prayers, when a great assembly open their lips together. He that joins his spirit with the spirit of the Church shall be heard as if he prayed with ten thousand voices.

(Bishop Hacker.)

O see how many legions He can command" from heaven, and then say, it is a vain thing to trust in the forces of man; it is the Lord that hath powers and principalities in store to awe the world: lo, He cometh with a multitude of the heavenly host.

(Bishop Hacker.)

The choir was not long a-tuning, but the hymn was sung immediately after the sermon was ended, like a chime that follows a clock without distinction of a minute: one good work follows another incontinently without any tedious pause or lingering respite. Quick motions of zeal and devotion are ever most acceptable. Procrastinating of time is the ready way to be taken tardy like the foolish virgins.

(Bishop Hacker.)

If Asaph and that choir did lift up their note with all sorts of musical instruments in the old law, while the sacrifice was burning upon the altar, I am sure we have much more cause, not in imitation of Asaph, but of the angels, to praise the Lord with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Luther, I know not upon what reason, unless it were because the angels in my text did begin the gospel with melody, he makes psalmody to be one of the notes of the orthodox Church of Christ. The voice of man certainly is to praise God in its best tunes and elegancies: and the reasons why musical notes are most fit and necessary amidst our Christian prayers are these four:

1. Rules of piety steal into our mind with the delight of the harmony, The Agathyrsians, even to Plato's days, were wont to sing their laws, and put them in tune, that men might repeat them in their recreations.

2. It kindles devotion, and fills the soul with more loving affections. Make a cheerful noise to the God of Jacob, says David. As the noise of flutes and of trumpets inspire a courage into soldiers, and inflame them to be victorious, so the psalms of the Church raise up the heart, and make it leap to be with God; as if our soul were upon our lips, and would fly away to heaven.

3. An heavy spirit oppresseth zeal, and that service of God is twice done which is done with alacrity: and our Christian merriment by St. James's rule is, singing and making melody to the Lord. When our Saviour and His company were sad the night before His Passion, to put away that heaviness they sang an hymn, when they went to Mount Olivet.

4. To sing some part of Divine doctrine is very profitable, because that which is sung is most treatibly pronounced; the understanding stabs long upon it, and nails it the faster to the memory.

(Bishop Hacker)

So my text lets you see, that if men be silent, and set not forth the praise of the Lord, the angels will speak, and give Him glory. It were a great shame for the Commons to be rude and irrespectful towards their king, when the nobles and princes of the people are most dutiful and obsequious; so when the Cherubins devote their songs to extol the most High, it were a beastly neglect in man, a worm in respect of a Cherubin, not to bear a part in that humble piety: but to speak after the method of reason, had it not been more proper for the angels at this time to have proclaimed Christ's poverty than His power, His infancy than His majesty, His humility in the lowest, rather than His glory in the highest? If there were any glory coming out of this work of the Incarnation, it may seem we had it rather than our Saviour, and He lost it. But the piercing eye of those celestial spirits could see abundant honour compassing Christ about, where ignorant man could espy nothing but vileness and misery.

1. They celebrate the glory of God's justice in sending His Son made of a woman, and made under the law, to suffer for us that had sinned against the law, because that justice would not receive man into favour without a satisfaction.

2. They divulge the honour of Christ unto the ends of the world, for the mercy that came down with Him upon all those that should believe in His name; if His justice was not forgotten in their song, surely His mercy should be much more solemnized. The angels for their own share were unacquainted with mercy, 'twas news in heaven till this occasion happened; for those rebellious ones of their order that had sinned, they found no grace to remit their trespasses; properly that is called mercy, but a thing so rare and unheard of in heaven, that as soon as ever they saw it stirring in the earth, they sing "Glory to God in the highest."

3. They praise the Lord on high for the Incarnation of His Son, because the dignity of the work was so from Himself, that no creature did merit it, none did beseech or intercede unto Him for it, before He had destinate it, nothing but His own compassion could move Him to it.

(Bishop Hacker.)

1. They knew, in the first place, the glory and greatness of that Being who was cradled in the manger.

2. The angels knew the sinfulness and misery from which the Saviour came to rescue fallen man, as we have never known them.

3. These visitants, again, knew, as we do not, the happiness of that state to which Christ's mission would raise us. We have seen, then, that angels praised God with such lively fervours, because they had so much clearer views than we of what Christ came to accomplish, when He was born at Bethlehem.

(W. N. Lewis, D. D.)

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