Sunday, December 24, 2023

Singing like angels. . .

Sermon for Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2023.

Though we are fascinated by angels, they are in many respects terrifying creatures.  The angels are not soft or cuddly but unnerving agents of God whom they serve with out hesitation.  They can be instruments of destruction but they more often support and encourage God's people at His bidding.  They often are used to announce what God is doing.  So the archangel Gabriel announced that God had shown His favor to the Virgin Mary that she would become the Mother of His Son.  But underneath everything angels do is their calling to praise God and worship Him.  Though we want to be angels, maybe we can learn to be like them.

So on that night when the fulfillment of God’s promise was taking place, the angels fulfill two of those purposes.  An angel visits shepherds who are keeping watch over their flocks.  The glory of the Lord did not comfort them.  It caused them great fear.   They did not know what to think and what they did think was terrifying to them.  But the angel had not come to make them afraid.  Instead the angel announces to those shepherds that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  

You cannot be an angel but you can be like the angels.  Do not be voices of dread and doom but of hope and promise.  Announce not yourself or your accomplishments or your thoughts or your opinions but what the Lord has done.  Why are we so free with our ideas of who is the best candidate for this office or that or the best team in this sport or that or the best singer or actor but our lips grow silent in speaking the Word of God?  Be like angels.  Speak clearly the Word of God.  Let the Lord commandeer your voices so that those who live in darkness and the shadow of death may know light and life.  Speak the Gospel without worrying about who or how they hear it so that those captive to sin may be set free through forgiveness.  Be like angels.  Do the Lord’s bidding.

At the moment when the angel told the shepherds what God was doing in Bethlehem, the heavens opened and a multitude of the heavenly host praised God singing:  “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth!”  Be like the angels.  Praise God.  Do not be a stranger to His house.  Do not be reluctant to bend the knee in worship or open the voice in praise.  Let everything you think and say and do be an act of worship.  This is not about ramping up your feelings but making everything in your life a prayer and a thanksgiving.  Do not let yourself become a spectator within the company of those who praise God for His goodness.  Join in like the angels.  Be like the angels.  Don’t become a prisoner to your whims or your desires.  The angels exist solely to worship God.  Their worship begins with the song of praise and thanksgiving we also sing – Glory to God in the highest – but that is not the sum of it all.  They worship God with their actions.  They do not second guess God or let doubts steal their confidence away from God’s promises.  They do not let their mood determine if they feel like praising God or serving their neighbor.  

You cannot be an angel but you can be like the angels.  Let your words and your works be the same and when you slip up or screw up, ask the Lord to absolve you and He will.  He is not stingy with His forgiveness.  Do not be stingy with yours.  Do not think the worst of people but put the best construction on everything.  Suspicion and skepticism and doubt and fear always work against faith and steal the voice of praise from God’s people.  God knows the worst about you and loves you still.  Love Him for this and love your brothers and sisters in the Lord even when they fail you and let you down.

You cannot be an an gel but you can be like the angels.  They are always filled with joy.  They rejoice not over their hopes met or their dreams fulfilled but over every sinner who repents.  They rejoice not over blessings that are by nature temporary but the gift of eternity that cannot be taken away from the people of God.  They do not rejoice only because Jesus is a baby in a manger but because He is the Lord who suffers, dies, and rises so that the lost may be found, the broken healed, the sorrowing rejoice, and the grieving hope.  I fear that we have forgotten how to be joyful – not happy like the happiness that gets what you want but joyful – trusting in the Lord without fear.  Christians have become sourpusses and cranky people.  We smile more at the screw ups of others than their successes.  We laugh more at our enemies suffering than the unworthy who is lifted up.  Be like the angels.  Let your hearts of joy be evident in what you think, say, and do.  No one will pay the cost of Christian faith if it means giving up joy.  God has not forced you into such a choice.  It is not faith or joy but joy because of faith.

You cannot be an angel but you can be like the angels.  The angels have a sense of wonder and awe at the things of God.  Do not be like those who marvel more at social media and memes more than the work of God to save you.  Be like the child who lives in painful anticipation of the joy of opening his presents or giving her presents to others.  God has given you the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Share those gifts with others.  Be joyful in the sharing of what God has given you.  For the miracle of His gifts is that they do not diminish in us as we give them away; instead they multiply and grow by sharing.

You cannot be an angel but you can be like the angels.  Yes, you have heartaches.  People have not treated you well.  You have been disappointed over and over again and you will be in the future as well.  Your family is dysfunctional.  Your health is not good.  You bank account is not full.  We all have a thousand reasons to fret or be grumpy but tonight God has given us a cause for joy.  Unto you is born this day a Savior who loves you, who forgives you, who knows you, and who wants you to be with Him forevermore.  This is Jesus who lives up to His name:  He saves His people.

Be like the angels.  Surrender to joy until you learn like St. Paul to be content in every circumstance because Christ is yours and you are His.  Be like the angels.  Let your mouth speak the saving truth the sinner and the dying long to hear.  Christ has overcome sin and died the fearful death to raise us to the endless life of heaven.  Be like the angels.  Worship the Lord often and regularly and not simply on Christmas.  Let it be said of you that you were never a stranger to God’s House nor was the voice of His Word unfamiliar to you.  Be like the angels.  What you know of God, share and give away – forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Be like the angels.  Be occupied with joy – not complaint or bitterness or anger but joy.  The best Christmas is not behind you.  The best Christmas is this one. . . and the next one. . . until we celebrate it in the presence of the angels.  The tidings are good and the joy is full.  That is what we learn from the angels.

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