Sunday School Lessons

Better than Special Effects!

Two of my sons have developed some skills in video editing, and over the holidays, they produced a short video with some of their cousins (who were visiting for a couple of days).  While the quickly-developed plot was entertaining, and the green-screen effects were impressive, the use of some background music really rounded out the quality of the production.

The same can be true when watching “deleted scenes” from a movie.  When a scene wasn’t fully polished (whether with CGI or music and sound effects), it might give us insight into a story point that wasn’t clear, or share a good joke that had to be cut from the movie.  However, it doesn’t seem quite finished without the immersive effects.

In fact, as my wife and I sometimes joke, things like music tell us when we “should” be happy or sad, or whether the character on the screen is one we should consider the “good guy” or “bad guy”.  Laugh tracks tell us when something was funny (even if we missed the joke the first time).

When we consider the amazing news shared by an angel to shepherds in Luke 2:8-12, though, I don’t think that God needed to punctuate this message for humankind with Hollywood effects.  This good news of great joy would have been enough in itself.  This event – the birth of Jesus Christ – was a really important scene that moved the “plot” (i.e., the plan of God) forward in history.  Like a British TV show, this angelic announcement could have stood on its own without any embellishments.

Still, we read the following:

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
https://bible.com/bible/111/luk.2.13-14.NIV

While teaching, this is where I like to say, “Boom!”  If seeing an angel wasn’t frightening enough, experiencing a “host” of them must have been spectacular!

Here’s my hypothesis, though: I don’t think that God needed to bring in this angelic host in order to deliver this amazing message to the shepherds.  Yes, He knows that we (human beings) are kind of dull, and sometimes need a little help to make the right decision.  However, the news itself would seem to be enough, attested to by the appearance of an angel, no less!  What if glorifying God is merely the natural reaction to His great deeds, and this host of angels was merely breaking out in the praise that they could not contain, as they saw God reaching out to fallen human beings with the gift of peace on earth?  That is, what if this outbreak of praise to God was the natural response to the message, and not something “commissioned” by God for emphasis?  Just a thought.

Regardless of whether or not I’m right about that, when I see the word “host” in this form within the Bible, I generally think of a military reference.  Imagine an ancient army lined up for battle, row upon row upon row, with sword, spears, and shields, ready to go to war.  Maybe you’ve watched a show about ancient battles, or you’ve managed to sit through the many (many, many) hours of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.  That’s kind of what I think of the heavenly host being arrayed like.

Having said that, although I understand what it’s like to be part of a Christmas pageant in a small church, I’m pretty sure that this appearance of the heavenly host was quite a bit different from a few kids in white robes and tinsel halos!

On a related note, my understanding of first-century descriptions of the heavens was that there were three “levels” of heaven:

  • The first heaven was the sky, where birds (and today, airplanes) fly.
  • The second heaven was what we call “outer space”, where the stars and planets are.
  • The third heaven was where God dwelled, which is what we often mean when we use the word, “heaven”.

Paul talks about “the third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12 (see 2 Corinthians 12:2, specifically), and I think that this may be the “highest heaven” that the angels spoke about here.

However, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, what did He have them ask for with regard to God’s will?  He taught them to pray that “…your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matthew 6:9-10).  In addition to God’s will being done here on earth, I’m pretty sure that God should be praised and glorified everywhere, too.

In fact, what was the response to the good news that the first angel brought?

  • God was praised.
  • God was glorified.
  • People received a blessing.

I suspect that this was a taste of heaven.  After all, when we are in the presence of a loving, holy God, we should expect to praise and glorify Him for eternity.  At the same time, though, we will be blessed by His presence, because He is a good and loving God.

In the same way, the shepherds also praised and glorified God (see Luke 2:20), once they had confirmed that this good news that they had been told was true.  And, they had been blessed.

May you and I praise and glorify God today, even as we receive a blessing from Him.


From Sunday School lesson prepared for December 19, 2021

References:

  • The Lookout, December 19, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
  • 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.

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