CONTEXT: Matthew Henry comments: In this chapter, we have an account of the birth and infancy of our Lord Jesus: having had notice of his conception, and of the birth and infancy of his forerunner, in the former chapter. The First-begotten is here brought into the world; let us go meet him with our hosannas, blessed is he that cometh. Here is, I. The place and other circumstances of his birth, which proved him to be the true Messiah, and such a one as we needed, but not such a one as the Jews expected (v. 1-7). II. The notifying of his birth to the shepherds in that neighbourhood by an angel, the song of praise which the angels sung upon that occasion, and the spreading of the report of it by the shepherds (v. 8-20). III. The circumcision of Christ, and the naming of him (v. 21). IV. The presenting of him in the temple (v. 22-24). V. The testimonies of Simeon, and Anna the prophetess, concerning him (v. 25-39). VI. Christ’s growth and capacity (v. 40-52). VIII. His observing the passover at twelve years old, and his disputing with the doctors in the temple (v. 41-51). And this, with what we have met with (Mt. 1 and 2), is all we have concerning our Lord Jesus, till he entered upon his public work in the thirtieth year of his age.
In the account of this eventful night, the words heard are alone mentioned; one might be pardoned for wishing we had also the score! We all know how an interesting strain of melody will fix itself in our memories; sometimes we can hardly keep from humming it over, repeating snatches of it we have caught, and rehearsing to others the way it went, so as to give an idea, It may be that the shepherds remembered parts of this; but if so, we have no means of ascertaining it. Only the words reach us; but they are well worth the study of the world. The startling abruptness with which this seraphic anthem fell on the ears of the shepherds that first Christmas night, adds greatly to the dramatic effect of the scene. Hardly lingering for their leader to end his communication, that choir of singers “suddenly” burst forth with loud volume of exquisite harmony, celebrating the praises of Jehovah, whom they saw in a fresh field of splendid display. There were a vast number of singers — “a host,” that is to say, an army; “an army celebrating a peace.” Surely there was enough to inspire their music; and great armies of voices sing together quite often with immense power of rich and voluminous harmony. It was an exaggeration, no doubt, but ancient history gravely records that, when the invader of Macedon was finally expelled, the victorious Greeks, who heard the news and so learned that freedom had come, and fighting was over, and home was near, raised along the lines and throughout the camp such a shout of “Sorer! Soter!” — “a Saviour! A Saviour!” — that birds on the wing dropped down. It may have been so; but what was that little peninsula of Greece, as compared with this entire race redeemed from Satan unto God? What were the actual words of this angels’ song? It is well that we all recollect them — “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men!” Three stanzas in one hymn.
1. The first of them, and the foremost in thought, is “Glory to God in the highest.” This is not a prayer at all, but an ascription. It was no time to be asking that God be glorified, when the whole universe was quivering with new disclosure of a “Gloria in Excelsis,” such as blind men could see and deaf men could hear. Those angels did not pray — Glory be to God — but they exclaimed — Glory is to God in the highest! And then they rush rapidly into an enumeration of particulars. The connection of thought is close. Glory to God in the highest, because peace has come on the earth, and goodwill has already gone out toward men. These angels are making proclamation that the rebellious race is for evermore subdued. No longer was this planet to circle around among loyal worlds in space, flaunting the defiant flag of a belligerent in the kingdom of heaven. Men should be redeemed; sin should be positively checked; all the ills of a worn-out and wretched existence should be banished; poverty should be removed, sickness and death find a Master; Satan should be foiled by Immanuel in person. Hence this entire vision, which flashed on the awakened intelligence of the angels and inspired their song, was simply reversive and revolutionary. The whole earth seemed to rouse itself to a new being. Cursed for human sin, it saw its deliverance coming. The day had arrived when streams and lakes should gleam in the sunshine, when the valleys should smile and laugh and sing, when flowers should bloom and stars should flash — all to the glory of God!
2. Then “peace on earth”; God was at last in the world reconciling it unto Himself; the hearts of His creatures were coming back to Him; their allegiance was to be restored, their wills were to be subjugated, their minds were to be enlightened; thus peace over all the world would be established, God’s wrath would be averted, and the long wrestle of man with Satan would reach its end. For when men are really at peace with God, they will come to peace with each other.
3. And so, at last, “goodwill toward men.” That ends this song of the angel; that is what ought to be the beginning of each Christmas anthem and carol. God loves us; oh, how touchingly does the aged Paul in one place tell his young brother Titus about that “kindness and love of God our Saviour toward men! “God cherishes only goodwill toward any of us. Even the wicked; He takes no pleasure in their death. He would rather they would turn unto Him, and live. Oh, happy day is that in which He tells us all this unmistakably, with perfect plainness. Brethren, if God so loved us, then ought we also to love one another. “All ye are brethren.” Away with all fancied superiorities and aristocracies on the common Christmas day — the gladsome birthday of Christi Herdsmen are on a visit to a carpenter at an inn; and they are told to go to the outhouse to find him! Beasts are standing by a manger in which lies the Child — King David the Second I But, for a]! this seems so democratic and small, please remember that a choir of angels have been singing outside. Who among us is too proud to listen?C. S. Robinson, D. D.
Happy the day when every war-horse shall be houghed, when every spear shall become a pruning-hook, and every sword shall be made to till the soil which once it stained with blood I This will be the last triumph of Christ. Before death itself shall be dead, death’s great jackal, war, must die also; and then there shall be peace on earth, and the angel shall say, “I have gone up and down through the earth, and the earth sitteth still, and is at rest: I heard no tumult of war nor noise of battle.”C. H. Spurgeon