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The Host of Angels: A Witness to God's Nature

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Introduction

In our study of Luke’s gospel, we examined this passage of scripture last October, but I returned to my notes and saw that we focused primary upon Luke’s emphasis upon the role of the shepherds, along with Simeon and Anna later, as the first witnesses to the true identity of Mary’s son.
This was done both for the benefit of Mary and Joseph as well as for the general public (see. 2:18-19).
Today, we want to return to that chapter to think about what the “multitude of the army of heaven” along with the “angel of the Lord” sang in the audience of the shepherds.
We live in a world filled with violence. Consider what we’ve witnessed in the last year. Mass shootings at concerts, churches, and schools, the reemergence of inner city violence that has left many of our largest cities as centers of death as much as they are centers of commerce, threats of global war, civil unrest in places like Spain, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia in addition to places like Charlottesville.
Violence and conflict are symptoms of the depraved human heart. They reveal the existence of a deeper, cosmic conflict between man and his Creator.
Biblical Christianity, which is based on the the message of salvation by grace through faith, stands unique in the world.
We may not wish to hear it put so bluntly, but we humans tend to get everything wrong. That usually includes the so-called “spirit of the season.” On Hallmark Channel it means a continuous stream of movies about two people falling in love. We make Christmas be a time of focus upon ourselves. In some families, gifts are given, not out of benevolence or need, but out of desire to be the favored child, parent, or grandparent. We even get philosophical sometimes and say that the season gives us hope for what is possible or the kind of world that we can create.

John Dear - Huffington Post 12/24/12: “Christmas ‘Peace on Earth’ Means ‘No More War” (Dear is a Catholic priest)

When the nonviolent Jesus was born two thousand years ago into abject poverty to homeless refugees on the outskirts of a brutal empire, the story goes that angels appeared in the sky to impoverished shepherds singing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!”
Peace was coming to the world! They were so excited, they couldn’t contain themselves.
Peace was coming to the world! They were so excited, they couldn’t contain themselves.
That’s what Christmas is about — the coming of “peace on earth.”
That’s what Christmas is about — the coming of “peace on earth.”
That child grew up to become, in Gandhi’s words, “the greatest nonviolent resister in the history of the world.” Jesus taught peace, lived peace and blessed peacemakers. “My peace is my gift to you,” he said. When we refused to learn “the things that make for peace,” he broke down and wept. He took action to end systemic injustice, and he did it in a nonviolent way and, for his civil disobedience, he was brutally executed by the Roman Empire and died forgiving his killers. When he rose from the dead, he came back not seeking vengeance or retaliation, but once again, offering his gift of peace. “Peace be with you,” he said over and over again. Now you practice nonviolence and go forth as a peacemaker into the world of war. That was his message.
That child grew up to become, in Gandhi’s words, “the greatest nonviolent resister in the history of the world.” Jesus taught peace, lived peace and blessed peacemakers. “My peace is my gift to you,” he said. When we refused to learn “the things that make for peace,” he broke down and wept. He took action to end systemic injustice, and he did it in a nonviolent way and, for his civil disobedience, he was brutally executed by the Roman Empire and died forgiving his killers. When he rose from the dead, he came back not seeking vengeance or retaliation, but once again, offering his gift of peace. “Peace be with you,” he said over and over again. Now you practice nonviolence and go forth as a peacemaker into the world of war. That was his message.
Two thousand years later, the world continues to reject “the things that make for peace.” It remains stuck in the old cycle of war, militarism, empire, poverty and injustice.
Two thousand years later, the world continues to reject “the things that make for peace.” It remains stuck in the old cycle of war, militarism, empire, poverty and injustice.
This time, however, the empire’s weapons have the power to destroy the entire planet. The money spent funding our wars and weapons bankrupts us and leaves millions in hunger. On top of that, our greed and systemic violence destroys the environment. Catastrophic climate change is upon us, and looks to bring unprecedented new levels of violence and destruction in its wake.
This time, however, the empire’s weapons have the power to destroy the entire planet. The money spent funding our wars and weapons bankrupts us and leaves millions in hunger. On top of that, our greed and systemic violence destroys the environment. Catastrophic climate change is upon us, and looks to bring unprecedented new levels of violence and destruction in its wake.
Once again, we categorically reject that Christmas gift of “peace on earth” and pursue the tired-old paradigm of “war on earth.”
Once again, we categorically reject that Christmas gift of “peace on earth” and pursue the tired-old paradigm of “war on earth.”
Last week, I returned from a peace mission to Afghanistan, where I saw for myself the epitome of poverty, warfare, imperial occupation and environmental destruction. In the last few decades, two million people have been killed there in war. Our current war on the children of Afghanistan is the longest in our own nation’s history, but you don’t hear much about it and folks don’t seem that concerned. War is normal, permanent, institutionalized, taken for granted. This year, the U.S. launched over 330 drone attacks in Afghanistan, and over 1700 Afghan children have been killed or harmed in the conflict — 85 times the number of the horrific Sandy Hook School massacre. We deliberately, systematically, intentionally wage war, kill children, and pursue “war on earth.”
Last week, I returned from a peace mission to Afghanistan, where I saw for myself the epitome of poverty, warfare, imperial occupation and environmental destruction. In the last few decades, two million people have been killed there in war. Our current war on the children of Afghanistan is the longest in our own nation’s history, but you don’t hear much about it and folks don’t seem that concerned. War is normal, permanent, institutionalized, taken for granted. This year, the U.S. launched over 330 drone attacks in Afghanistan, and over 1700 Afghan children have been killed or harmed in the conflict — 85 times the number of the horrific Sandy Hook School massacre. We deliberately, systematically, intentionally wage war, kill children, and pursue “war on earth.”
But that’s not the way of Jesus, the meaning of Christmas, or the call of the Gospel. Indeed, support for war, weapons or killing in any form is a complete betrayal of the nonviolent Jesus. It mocks his life, Christmas and the God of peace.
But that’s not the way of Jesus, the meaning of Christmas, or the call of the Gospel. Indeed, support for war, weapons or killing in any form is a complete betrayal of the nonviolent Jesus. It mocks his life, Christmas and the God of peace.
That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that no one can claim to be an authentic Christian any more if they support warfare and weapons. You cannot seriously call yourself a follower of the nonviolent, peacemaking Jesus, whom we celebrate and honor at Christmas, if you own guns, support our wars, defend our nuclear weapons arsenal, tolerate executions and catastrophic climate change, and participate in violence in any form. Anyone who supports warfare, weapons or killing, even if they be a priest, minister or bishop, goes against the nonviolent Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a practitioner of creative nonviolence. To follow the peacemaking Jesus means becoming a peacemaker.
That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that no one can claim to be an authentic Christian any more if they support warfare and weapons. You cannot seriously call yourself a follower of the nonviolent, peacemaking Jesus, whom we celebrate and honor at Christmas, if you own guns, support our wars, defend our nuclear weapons arsenal, tolerate executions and catastrophic climate change, and participate in violence in any form. Anyone who supports warfare, weapons or killing, even if they be a priest, minister or bishop, goes against the nonviolent Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a practitioner of creative nonviolence. To follow the peacemaking Jesus means becoming a peacemaker.
If the birth of the nonviolent Jesus heralds the coming of “peace on earth,” then those who honor or follow him must try to welcome that great Christmas gift of peace. We join to renounce violence, join the global peace movement, work for disarmament and spend our lives making peace with everyone.
If the birth of the nonviolent Jesus heralds the coming of “peace on earth,” then those who honor or follow him must try to welcome that great Christmas gift of peace. We join to renounce violence, join the global peace movement, work for disarmament and spend our lives making peace with everyone.
Christmas invites us to reclaim our common imagination for peace, to herald a new future of peace, and so to resist the old paradigm of global war-making.
Christmas invites us to reclaim our common imagination for peace, to herald a new future of peace, and so to resist the old paradigm of global war-making.
That vision of peace, announced by the nonviolent Jesus as God’s “reign of peace,” is breath-taking. It upholds a world without borders, one human family where everyone sees everyone else as a beloved sister or brother. When we pray for the coming of that reign, we welcome God’s gift of peace with all its challenging global, social, economic and political implications.
That vision of peace, announced by the nonviolent Jesus as God’s “reign of peace,” is breath-taking. It upholds a world without borders, one human family where everyone sees everyone else as a beloved sister or brother. When we pray for the coming of that reign, we welcome God’s gift of peace with all its challenging global, social, economic and political implications.
To state the obvious: “Peace on earth” means “No More War.” From now on, nonviolent Christians, resist war, call for the immediate end of our war in Afghanistan and our nuclear arsenal, and work for a world beyond our wildest imagination — a new world without war, weapons, drones, killings, nuclear weapons, poverty, starvation, corporate greed, violence or environmental destruction.
To state the obvious: “Peace on earth” means “No More War.” From now on, nonviolent Christians, resist war, call for the immediate end of our war in Afghanistan and our nuclear arsenal, and work for a world beyond our wildest imagination — a new world without war, weapons, drones, killings, nuclear weapons, poverty, starvation, corporate greed, violence or environmental destruction.
Christmas invites a beautiful opportunity to renew our own personal nonviolence and commit ourselves once again to ending war and killing, to building a stronger global peace movement, and to lifting up that glorious vision of a nonviolent world.
Christmas invites a beautiful opportunity to renew our own personal nonviolence and commit ourselves once again to ending war and killing, to building a stronger global peace movement, and to lifting up that glorious vision of a nonviolent world.
As we celebrate the birth of the nonviolent Jesus, I hope we will honor his way of nonviolence and commit ourselves again to becoming people of nonviolence. That’s what the spiritual life is about — turning from our addiction to violence and war, and becoming sober people of nonviolence and peace. As we do, we become, like Jesus, peacemakers, and we will be blessed.
As we celebrate the birth of the nonviolent Jesus, I hope we will honor his way of nonviolence and commit ourselves again to becoming people of nonviolence. That’s what the spiritual life is about — turning from our addiction to violence and war, and becoming sober people of nonviolence and peace. As we do, we become, like Jesus, peacemakers, and we will be blessed.

Background

In the broader narrative, the shepherds serve two purposes. First, they continue Luke’s contrast between the high status of Augustus, whose decree had caused Joseph to take Mary to Bethlehem, and the lowly circumstances under which Jesus was born and people learned of his birth. Second, they will provide confirmation to both Mary and the general public of the reality that Jesus is God.

As far as Luke reveals, no one, other than Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth, knows what the angel of the Lord told Mary about her conception and that her child is Jehovah, the Lord.
The testimony of the shepherds is vital, therefore, to assuring Mary and Joseph of the Word of God and witnessing to the intervention of God into human history.
How would the shepherds be convinced?

Text

13 καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς ⸀οὐρανίου αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων·*

14 δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ*

καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη*

⸂ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας

The appearance of the heavenly host only occurs here in the New Testament. Therefore we might ask the question:

Why were these angels present?

They are there to give God the praise that He deserves.

They proclaim his glory in the highest.
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains 1.13 ὕψος, ους; ὑψηλός, ή, όν; ὕψιστος, η, ον; ὕψωμα, τος

1.13 ὕψοςb, ους n; ὑψηλόςb, ή, όν; ὕψιστοςa, η, ον; ὕψωμαa, τος n: a location above the earth and associated with supernatural events or beings—‘high, world above, sky, heaven, on high.’

Notice the parallelism of the passage. They speak in couplets:
Glory corresponds with peace, “in the highest” with “upon the earth,” and “to God” with “among men.”

They give the heavenly and earthly implications of what God has done.

In light of the birth of Jesus, God’s glory and majesty deserves full recognition.
For the structure, note the similarity with . We must note, however, that the Psalm stresses what should come FROM heave and earth.
What does the birth of Jesus mean upon the Earth?
God has provided peace among men who meet his approval. We have peace with God, and we have the characteristic of peace among ourselves.

They provide confirmation that God’s word is true.

God is a God of evidence and provides irrefutable confirmation of the truthfulness and dependability of His word.
What the angel of the Lord had told the shepherds now receives one additional stamp of certainty.
The heavenly host validates the deity of Jesus.
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