Saturday, December 23, 2006

God Is Pleased with Men

The earliest version of this sermon was preached in 1979 at my vicarage church in Lincoln Park, Michigan. I have been adapting and reusing it ever since. It comes a day early, as a gift to any preacher who still needs to come up with a sermon for Christmas.

Let us consider again the message from the angels to the shepherds. If you were one of them you would surely never have forgotten. You would have heard a message that would have been seared onto your memory forever. Because the grand proclamation made to those Judean shepherds was made by a multitude of angels. What sort of message could require all those angels? If on this one occasion, God sends not one, not two or three, but a multitude of angels, He must have something of utmost importance to say. In fact, it must be the most important thing He ever said to men, because nothing else ever required the presence of so many angels. What was the message of the unanimous and glorious chorus of heavenly messengers? Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men; or, to put it another way: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men, with whom He is pleased. The message from that multitude of the heavenly host of angels was clear and simple: There is peace on earth, dear shepherds, because God is pleased with men.

For thousands of years after this grand proclamation, men would go on supposing that peace on earth is something accomplished by the ending of all global conflict, when at last all weapons are laid down. If only they had heard and understood the message of the angels, they would have known that peace on earth has already been accomplished. It isn’t something to be hoped for, it is something that is. For the message of the angels was clear: God is pleased with men.

But at this point the objections of reason will sound forth at once. This can’t be right. Some men are wicked, heinous, tyrannical, cruel. Some are murderers, thieves, adulterers. How can anyone say that God is pleased with men, or that there is peace on earth? There must be some mistake.

But to the shepherds there was no hint of a mistake; it was angelic. In fact, even if one considers the absurd impossibility of an angel being mistaken, the message didn’t come from just one angel; it came from a multitude of angels. Could a whole countryside full of angels all bellowing out one unanimous message be mistaken? Listen to the angels, o shepherd in the field: God is pleased with men.

But Satan must also raise an objection to this: How can this be? I have done my work well, I have caused many to fall deeply into sin, I have made them all sons of hell; I have filled them with all manner of wickedness, so that their thoughts are only evil continually. I have trapped them in pride and self-worship; I have made them sell me their souls. This message can’t be right! It’s far off the mark! It’s foolishness! Don't listen to it! It must have come from the mouth of a lunatic!

But it didn’t. It came from the mouths of angels.

And thank God for those angels. For if there are some men with whom God is not please, then surely we are among them! And if you were one of those shepherds, you might easily find yourself wondering—in fact you might be wondering right now—whether these objections may have a point. What about me? I am not worthy of God’s good pleasure, am I? Conscience pricks, and I know I have sinned. I know I am guilty, foul, and unclean. A thousand years of tears would not suffice for once worthily lamenting my wretchedness. How much more am I poor wretched man, who daily sin, continue without amendment, and approach God in sin. And the truth is that if God is not pleased with all men, he could never be pleased with me!

O thank God for those angels! And thank God for all the lights and tinsel of Christmas, and all the carols and cheer, and all the bells which ring out the news which every sinner needs so badly to hear: Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Here we see the reason there is peace on earth, and why God is pleased with men. It isn’t because of what kind of men they are that God is pleased. In fact, it has nothing at all to do with the nature of man. The reason is this: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And He didn’t come to be Savior of part of the world; he came to save it all. And if He is Savior of the world, then it makes all the sense in the world to say that God is pleased with men.

Those Bethlehem shepherds undoubtedly never forgot the angelic message on that first Christmas Eve. Would that you might remember it as they must have; that it might be seared into your memory, your heart, and your conscience, that you too might never forget the grandest angelic proclamation ever heard on earth: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among men, with whom He is pleased!

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