The First Christmas Carol
There is an incredible fascination with angels in our society. In one bookstore, the sales of books dealing with angels in some form has been the largest moneymaker topic of any other type of books sold. There are figurines and posters and pictures of “angels” in virtually every store which sells knick knacks. Since many brick and mortar bookstores have closed their doors, many online bookstores continue this same tradition. Television and movies have also created a large number of productions which revolve around stories of angels.
One might ask if there is really anything wrong with this? Well, for those familiar with Shakespeare's Macbeth, there is a quote that is very accurate. That line is simply, "Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.” The reality is that angels are not, nor were they, created to be worshiped. They were never intended to have attention brought upon themselves. In fact, the word for angels simply means messenger.
The problem begins when the fascination is upon angels rather than having a person's focus on the One upon whom their message centers, namely Jesus Christ. This focus on Christ is what it always should be, regardless of the season. If, in fact, the focus is on anything other than Jesus Christ, everything else is meaningless.
Today, in our Advent series on the first Christmas, we want to look at the first Christmas Carol. I understand the fact that this is not the first song recorded in Scripture. In fact, it may not be an actual song. The Bible does not state that the angels sang. In fact, it says that they were “praising God and saying.” Yet, for the sake of this message and the fact that Christmas carols are a real part of our lives, we will have to imagine that they were singing these praises.
Our praises should always be for Christ.
First, we will look at the singers of the Carol. Secondly, we will look at the significance of the Carol; specifically, what is really being shared in the message.
Singers of the Carol - 2:13
Singers of the Carol - 2:13
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
If you go backwards just a few verses, you will recall the fright and fear which the shepherds had experienced when that celestial Western Union messenger first arrived. The Bible tells us they were terrified. One translation states that they were “sore afraid." In my bizarre sense of humor, when I hear that they were sore afraid, I begin to wonder if they were sore because of their knees knocking together so hard. Regardless, they were extremely scared.
After the initial fear, the angel presents the good news, provides them with information to make sure they make it to the correct nursery, thus prompting the shepherds to probably assume that this episode is now complete. But you and I know that it was not really over.
Don't you love how the Holy Spirit causes Luke to put into words exactly what took place? Luke uses the word “suddenly." It wasn't like the Northern lights; starting out softly and then beginning to take on a glow in the skies, becoming brighter, then dimmer, then incredibly bright as they shimmer in the Northern skies. The word for suddenly carries with it a supernatural, unexpected event that only God causes. Interestingly enough, this same word is usually used in the context of eschatological, or end times events. In , we see the suddenness of the coming of the Lord to his temple. presents the sudden, unexpected arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When the Lord appeared to Saul, it was the same word used as he traveled to Damascus.
The question naturally arises as to what happened suddenly? "A great company of the heavenly host appeared…" In the Old Testament, heavenly host often referred to the heavenly bodies. However, just as in , here, it refers to an army of angels. In other words, they were innumerable. They were like the most incredible affirmation of what the messenger angel had been saying. They were praising God and were getting ready to tell a little bit more in their short Carol.
It is important that we understand that this large group of angels was not trying to impress the shepherds as to how incredible they were. Instead, they were doing all they could to point the shepherds to the Savior.
The strange fascinations that so many have with angels truly concerns me. I have a very strong feeling that this fascination is just another one of Satan's ploys and deceptions used in order to keep people from truly seeing and understanding the central message of the Bible; Jesus Christ is the Savior of all who will believe on His Name. If one looks throughout church history, one can see things which often have an underlying, biblical basis which is presented in a fairly noble matter, yet distracting from the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot say this too strongly; angels are never to be worshiped.
So the singers of the carol are angels, or messengers from God. Now we come to the contents of the carol. What is the significance of it?
Significance of the Carol - 2:14
Significance of the Carol - 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
To help us understand a little easier, maybe we should look at the purpose of the carol. As I mentioned earlier, we don't know for certain if they were singing or not. However, it is written in a poetic form. The early Jews would often take scripture written in a poetic form and put it to music.
We also know that music is one of the best ways of teaching. The world recognizes this fact by the way in which music is put forth with certain agendas. As a pastor, I recognize that music can find its way into a heart and mind often times more quickly and more deeply than the spoken word. Even with Scripture memorization, we find that children and adults can memorize Scripture, when done in music, more more readily, than simply reviewing it over and over. So, it would seem appropriate to understand that it was entirely possible for the angels to present this wonderful message as a carol.
Now, according to Webster, a carol is defined as follows:"To celebrate in a song; to sing joyously; warble; a song of praise or joy." I especially like the part of the definition which describes it as warbling. That gives many of us much more credibility when we say we're caroling,
This carol, which the choir of angels sang, is really a doxology. Doxology literally means "Word of glory, " which is exactly what was happening. That is what the angels are called upon to be doing; giving words of glory to God in their service.
Let's look a bit more closely at what is being shared. These angels are attributing to God glory in heaven and earth. The angels are praising God, not only for all that He is doing in heaven, but for what he is also doing on earth. Think about the reality all life on this earth endures. Without Christ, there is absolutely no hope for humanity. It is simply an existence. Without Christ, our lives are meaningless. But even our planet is affected. The Bible tells us that “the earth groans in travail is a woman in childbirth, longing for its release.” What was taking place at that moment, which was all planned before the beginning of time, would change the whole outlook of humanity. This baby would bring hope and cause humanity to give glory to God.
Luke then relates another part of the angels’ carol: ”And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” This wording is actually more accurate from a theological perspective than what the songs state, as well as a couple of translations. You may ask how and why this wording is more correct? Simply because the word literally is peace. There is actually no word used here in this verse which even implies goodwill. Christ did not even come to provide goodwill, but to provide peace to humanity, which was an enemy of God's. In addition, we know that this peace is only for those who believe upon His Name. For those who reject Christ, there not only is a lack of goodwill, but there is absolutely no peace. Instead, there is division, animosity, hatred, discord, and the list continues. Luke takes a great deal of time in his writings to point out the real and intended work of Christ on this earth. Christ came to forgive sins.
The peace which is spoken of is the peace that only the Messiah can bring. In , he reminds us that John the Baptist came to “shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Those individuals whom Jesus healed or forgave based upon their faith were told to “go in peace."
Christmas is such a wonderful time of year, yet, I believe it helps to be brought into perspective. It is not a time to simply bask in the warm fuzzies. The Bible tells us that Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. The meaning behind this is that Jesus did not come for the purposes of being a spiritual salve so we could continue on in our sins. Jesus is known as a stone which causes man to stumble. Why is that? Simply stated, he is not just a cute little baby in the manger in a stable. In fact, if He is not your Savior, the Bible says that He will be your Judge.
Jesus Christ is truly Lord. And as Lord, He is able to be your Savior. This time of year, we who are saved, have the opportunity of a lifetime to move people out of their spiritual complacency to experiencing a spiritual wake up call. My friends, unless a person knows Jesus Christ as personal Savior, there is no way in which one can have peace in their life. The reality is that unless one knows Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, it really makes no sense to even celebrate Christmas.
I have a Jewish friend who has stated that when he and some of his family became Christians, the rest of the family officially considered them dead. We may wonder why? Because they chose to reject their relatives’ belief system which was one of no eternal good. Because they had accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah Who was and is the only One Who could provide peace, they found most of their family had rejected them. And in years to come, they understood that when their birthday would come around, they would not be celebrated in the larger family. They understood that their family no longer even recognized them as being alive. Brothers and sisters, it doesn't make any sense for the world to be celebrating the arrival of the Savior, if they don't even know him as such? Yet, we rejoice that many attempt to do so in their own well-meaning ways. That provides opportunities for us to help point them to the reality of this special time.
Many years, we have gone out to sing Christmas carols. They are praises to God as well as a message to everyone that the Savior has come. Why not approach people of whom you are not sure of their salvation and visit with them as a messenger of God? You don’t have to sing for them. You can share with them how much more meaningful Christmas is when they know the Savior Who came on that day which we celebrate. You can share with them how they can experience real peace with the Savior. Maybe they will then have opportunity to sing their own first Christmas carol in whatever way they can.