Those of us who are familiar with the Charlie Brown Christmas special (on TV) may remember Linus – security blanket and all – quoting Biblical inspiration for celebrating Jesus’ birth. That quoted passage ends with the following verses:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:13-14 NIV
I can’t imagine what that experience was like for the shepherds, although we’ll probably have a better idea once we get to Heaven. Not only was the event awesome (i.e., actually awesome, not Valley Girl “awesome”), but it was also pretty terrifying.
For that matter, I don’t envision these shepherds as easily-frightened people. They were out in the open at night, and I expect that they had dealt with wild animals (like David, as he described in 1 Samuel 17:34-37), as well as human incursions. Still, they were afraid of the appearance of angels in glory, which was nothing like anything they had ever seen.
During the Christmas holidays, it is customary to read this passage. We sing songs about it and set up nativity scenes with these shepherds. That’s a good thing, but there is more to be found in the book of Luke than just the first couple of chapters.
If we keep reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, we find the following partial description of a “victory parade” when Jesus entered Jerusalem, about a week before His death and resurrection. This is part of what is sometimes called the Triumphal Entry, celebrated on Palm Sunday.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Luke 19:37-38 NIV
The phrasing might be a little different, but the people who praised God here as Jesus entered Jerusalem were saying pretty similar things to what the angels said, thirty years (or so) earlier when Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds.
I’m not sure if the angels’ words were meant to be prophetic, or if these were common praises of the day. Still, it seems interesting that the first and last weeks of Jesus’ life on earth (before His resurrection) were marked by praises to God, both related to peace and glory.
So, what has defined your life, so far? I remember sitting in the hospital when my oldest son was born. War was taking place, as we could see on the hospital room TV, and I wondered what sort of world I was bringing a child into. Still, since he accepted Jesus after he became old enough to make that decision (as did my other sons), I know that the other end of his life will be peace and glory, rather than the conflict that marked his birth.
While I don’t know about you, I’m pretty sure that angels and a star didn’t announce my birth (which was more than 30 years ago!). As only human beings, we don’t control the world we came into. In fact, when we are really little, we don’t control much at all. I clearly haven’t been able to stop all wars, arguments, sickness, death, and evil in this world. As a result, if my destiny was only a function of my surroundings, the end of my life would look pretty much like the beginning: with a fallen and broken world around me.
Praise be to God that we have an opportunity to have the end of our lives look at lot more like the peace and glory that Jesus brought, though. While we are not God (even though Jesus was) and we should not be worshiped as gods, we do not have to be resigned to a fate that is defined by how our lives started out. With the transformed life that Jesus provides, we can be made new ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:17), and with God’s help, we can effect some positive change in the world around us, even as we look forward to an eternity defined by God’s peace and glory.
Maybe angels didn’t call farmhands to visit you when you were born. Still, the hope that Jesus brings is that, no matter the chaos and turmoil that may have marked your birth (or even later times in your life), His peace and God’s glory can define the end of your days. May the angels rejoice (see Luke 15:10) as you are welcomed into God’s family, so that your life will begin again in the peace and glory of God, once your mission on this earth is completed.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.