Luke 2:14: The First Christmas Carol
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
What does the birth of Christ mean to the world today? Those who do not believe the Christmas story as teaching that the saviour of the world is born; many still celebrate the story because they believe that it teaches and affirms that the birth of every child is precious. As true as it is that every human life is precious, the remembrance of Jesus in the stable is not a celebration of human life, no matter where it is born. No, the significance of the birth of Christ is one of the most profound moments, ever. In order to get at some of the significance of Christmas we are going to look at the first Christmas Carol ever sung.
The setting of our first Carol is an outdoor service in the fields outside of Bethlehem. The MC for the evening was one of the angels, and the choir performing the short carol were the angels of heaven. No doubt no amplification was needed as the Bible speaks in proverbial terms of the ‘voice of an archangel’, and here we see a great host appearing. If you were one of the shepherds, and you were sitting listening, how do you think it would have appeared, the lighting, the volume, the harmonies, the beauty? And how earnest do you think the angels would have been in their praise? It profits for us to reflect on the attitude of the angel’s worship in this carol. When we come to Christmas it is very easy for us to sing without meaning, to sing out of tradition without worshipping. To sing enjoying the camaraderie of the moment without turning our love towards God, enjoying the tunes, the awakening of our sentimentality, and the novelty, more than all that we should be doing in worship as we sing, is easy and wrong. Try and imagine it. The angels who had been witnesses to God’s creation, to his work in the saving of Israel, who see him face to face. Now they behold the greatest act of God, a new work, an act where he does not act upon another but himself, where his power and glory are revealed not in displaying, but in concealing. The wonder that must have gripped their hearts, the anticipation that must have been satisfied as they had been waiting, watching God work out his purposes, guiding all to this moment. Putting yourself in another’s position is an obvious way to enter into a new appreciation of their situation. Try putting yourself in the angels position that evening, and let that warm your hearts with a new appreciation as you approach the manger this year.
But let us not forget the shepherds. What audience has been invited to such an illustrious concert? What important people have been sought out to hear the announcement and witness the overflowing joy of heaven, as they burst into spontaneous praise. A few shepherds in a field. Have you ever stopped to wonder why God chose to reveal himself to shepherds, why his greatest deed was done in a stable, before shepherds, in an oppressed nation. Some might think that God appeared to shepherds to indicate that Christ would be a type of shepherd. Some think that Christ was born poor, and that his announcement was given to poor shepherds, is God’s way of identifying with the poor and sending a strong political message against all oppression. I think the truth is more focused on God’s glory than political correctness. If Jesus had been born a Spartan or a Roman, or of some other great nation or city, people would brag like football supporters do, that it is in some virtue of where they were born or who they were born to. But rather he was born in unstable conditions, away from home, to a poor family. God knows that we are weak and cannot save ourselves, that all of our great, economic, political, military, and spiritual prowess is a show, we are here today gone tomorrow, but are always pretending to be stronger and more independent than we really are, just like a kid on the school playground. The present crises that are hitting the world reveal how fragile our strength really is. And so God makes his strength known through weakness, that he might get the glory. He knows that if he gives us the slightest opportunity to take glory for ourselves we will do it. In the Christmas story, God comes as a dependent baby to a teenage mother, of a poor family, of a people that are politically oppressed, born in a stable with only lowly shepherds as the witnesses of the greatest birth of all time. And so when Jesus lives and dies and changes the world, we cannot say, look at what good the human race can achieve, for he was conceived of a virgin, and was the God-man, Jews cannot say, look at how great Jews are and could not boast of their religion being the best in the world, the poor cannot say, look at our suppressed talent that lies dormant, royalty cannot take credit for his life, the greatest world power Rome could not take credit for what he has done. God uses the weak things of this world to dumbfound the wise, to show his strength, that no flesh will glory in his presence. With that let us now turn to consider the words of the first Carol.