The Gloria in Excelsis Deo
The Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Today we're going to look at Luke chapter 2. There is a Christmas song tucked within this Christmas story that I want to uncover—a song of unbelievable peace.
In order to talk about peace, I want to first talk about fear. I know you've all got your own fears. In fact, scientists tell us that fear is universal to all people. We're all born into this world with two universal fears: the fear of falling, and the fear of loud noises. As we get older, we develop a whole set of fears that are unique to us based on our environment, our family, our DNA, etc. Some people fear flying; some people fear deep water; some people fear germs or crowds or heights or being in tight spaces or spiders, right? We all have a set of things that we fear.
But today I want to talk to you about the deeper, debilitating fears that really grip our hearts and create ongoing anxiety in our lives. I think it's safe to say most of us can identify fears such as these in our lives. Nobody else may know about them, but they're the deep-seated fears we harbor. Maybe you're a man who fears deep down not really being able to succeed at your job. You fear you might come to the end of your life without accomplishing something significant. For men, the idea of success and adequacy is so important, and we fear the alternative. Maybe you're a couple whose marriage has been on the rocks recently, and there is a real fear inside you. Maybe you've come alone this morning without your spouse, and you fear that your marriage won't last as long as your parents' marriage did. Maybe you're a parent this morning who fears what your child's life will look like when she goes off to college. Or maybe you're a child, and for many years you've feared not measuring up to the expectations of your parents. You might be a grown child here today, and you're still fearful about measuring up for your parents. Maybe you're a single person here today, and you fear that you will never find a mate. Maybe you've really wrestled with that with God. Or perhaps you've just moved to this town, and you're afraid about being in a new place, establishing a new rhythm to life, getting a new job, and meeting new friends.
I want to talk about these hidden fears today. It might interest you to know that the Christmas story was couched in the context of fear. Did you know that? Christ came in the middle of fear. In fact, when you read the Christmas story in Luke chapters 1 and 2, you find that the angel Gabriel went to Zechariah in the temple while he was ministering. Scripture says that Zechariah was "gripped with fear" at Gabriel's appearance. Then this same angel appeared to Mary some time after that and surprised her. Scripture says that Mary was very afraid, and the angel had to calm her and assure her there was nothing to be afraid of. And when we come to our passage in Luke chapter 2, we discover that the shepherds were out in the field tending their flocks when, suddenly, the sky just lit up and an angel appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The shepherds were scared to death.
The story of Christmas is couched in the context of fear. And today I want to deal with two issues: I want to answer this question: Why do we fear what we fear in life? And I want to address this question: What has God done to answer the question of our human fears?
Why do we fear what we fear?
I think the answer to the first question comes from Luke 2:9: "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." There is a connection, I believe, between the glory of God and the fear of people. I take my cues from Romans 3:23, where the Bible says this: "For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God." What this verse in Romans tells me is that God's original design for me and for you and for all human beings is to reflect or manifest his glory. When he created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he created them as human beings to reflect, reveal, and manifest his excellencies, his beauty, his morality, his goodness, his perfection. God designed the world and he designed people in the world to be a mirror of the greatness and beauty and glory of God.
But then something happened. Sin entered into the world, entered into the garden, and entered into the hearts of Adam and Eve and every person since then. The glory and perfection and beauty and majesty of God were tarnished, so that neither human beings nor the creation in which we live fully reflect the God's glory. And get this: sin entering into the world has created a gap between the people God designed us to be and who we really are now. Sin has created distance between the glory of God and the sinfulness of our human existence, and it is that gap—that gap between who we are designed to be and who we know ourselves to be—that creates fear in life. We discovered that immediately after Adam and Eve sinned. They ate of the fruit of the tree, they realized that they had fallen short of God's perfect design for them, and what did they do? They hid in fear. Fear entered the picture with the distance between what God had intended and who Adam and Eve had come to be.
Many years ago I was invited to give a Christian talk to a group of seventh and eighth graders. When I showed up in the classroom, 13-year-olds were sitting around in a circle waiting to hear from me. I was not afraid. There wasn't any fear, anxiety, or hesitation in me. I felt secure because I knew that my ability and competence probably exceeded any of their expectations or abilities. To say it differently, I felt there were probably pretty good odds that I could out-preach any of the seventh or eighth graders sitting there in that classroom.
Let's rewind two years before that experience. I was in a different classroom—a classroom of my doctoral studies—and I was taking a class on creativity in preaching at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Haddon Robinson, one of the foremost preachers in the world, was the professor of my class. Dr. Robinson had written the textbook and the parameters around expository preaching. I was in a class with the glory of preaching. He gave us an assignment to prepare a sermon and then present it before him and our peers. I was scared spit-less. I was full of fear. And you know why I was fearful? Because I was, essentially, standing before the glory of preaching. I knew the distance between what was expected and required of me and who I really was—what my own limitations were. Do you see that? The distance between what I knew was expected—the design of right, good, biblical teaching—and my limitations created the fear in my life.
The fear that you and I experience every day in life is a fear that results from being aware of this gap—this distance between who we were designed to be and who we is this tarnished world really are.
This is why a man fears losing his job: he knows deep within his heart that he was originally designed for security and productivity and justice and purpose and meaning in life. That's the way God designed him. But he lives in a sinful world—a world of injustice, a world of unfairness, a world of loss, a world of failure. And some of that sin and failure is in him. The gap between what was originally designed to be and what a man really experiences as reality in life creates fear.
Why does a woman get afraid about a surgery she's anticipating? Because she knows she's made in the image of God—she's designed to reflect life and health and peace and vitality and eternality. But she knows that sin is in the world and has affected her. She knows the very real possibility of experiencing sickness, pain, and even death. And the distance between what God designed life to be and what she really experiences in reality is what creates incredible fear.
Why does a Christian in a church have such anxiety about reconciling with someone—about talking to someone and saying, "Hey, listen, I was a little offended by what you did, but let's work this out," or, "I really apologize that I hurt your feelings this way. Would you forgive me?" Those interpersonal moments can create such anxiety and fear in us because we're hard-wired to understand that the standard—the design of God—is for perfect community, connection, intimacy, and relationship. That's all part of God's glorious, incredible design. It's part of who he is. But we know we live in a world affected and impacted by sin, and the reality here includes rejection, gossip, criticism, and anger. We experience those things. The gap between what we know to be true and what really is creates an incredible fear.
If it were not for sin, we'd not have to worry about sickness or pain or failure or injustice or being taken advantage of or God or spiders or snakes. As it is, sin has entered into the world and created a gap, and as a result we are very afraid. We're full of fear.
Fortunately, for this reason—for our fears—Christ came. He came to conquer our fears. The shepherds learned this as they stood there shaking in their tunics. The glory of the Lord shone around them. They were in the presence of glory. The shepherds realized how small they were in comparison to God's great glory. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for I bring to you good news of great joy which shall be for all of the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord." As soon as the angel announced that Christ a Savior—a solution—had been born, heaven exploded. There was an even greater flash of light. An entire multitude of angels appeared, and they began to sing a Christmas carol. The song is short, but it's profound. They sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
This little song holds the solution to our fears. When Christ came into the world, he brought two things. First, he brought glory to God. He brought glory to God in his coming. God designed the world to reflect his glory. God desired the world to mirror or manifest the greatness of who he is. Sin entered the picture, tarnishing the world, but God did not abandon his glory. He didn't say, "Well, that plan didn't work out. I'm going to have to choose something else now." Instead, God chose to restore and redeem his glory in the world, and he did that by sending his Son. The coming of Christ into the world was first and foremost to reveal the glory and the magnificence of God. That's why Christ came.
Think about it this way: all of the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament written about Christ were put there to reveal the glorious sovereignty of God. The reason that Christ came by virgin birth instead of by natural means was to reveal the glorious power of God. The reason that Christ came to earth—that God came to man in the incarnation—was to reveal the glorious presence of God. And the reason that Christ went to the cross was to reveal the glorious grace of God. Everything that Christ did was to glorify God in the highest heavens above all other gods forever and ever, amen. End of story. Christ came to glorify the Father, and the glory that was tarnished, the glory that was dulled on the planet and in the hearts of people from the very beginning, Christ came to redeem and restore.
To which point you might say, "What does that have to do with me? If Christ came to glorify the Father, what difference does that make in my life?" Get this: if God had not been passionate for his own glory, he would have never sent his Son into the world. God was committed first and foremost to the manifestation of his own beauty and his own excellence. Because God sent his Son into the world, you and I are the recipients of God being committed to his own glory. We are recipients of his excellencies, his beauty, his worth. God sent his Son into the world in order to glorify himself, and we get the blessing.
The blessing is the second thing that Christ brought: the blessing of peace. Christ came to bring glory to God and peace to all people. That's what the angel said. The result of God bringing glory to himself is peace to all men on whom his favor rests. Christ came into the world to glorify the Father, and he was not only born to us but he died for us, and in the life, death, and resurrection the gap between God and us was closed. Christ came to change our hearts—to remove from us a heart that was tarnished and dulled from sin and to restore or regenerate in us a new heart so that we might day by day begin to reflect again the glory of God. Christ came to restore us to God's original design, and when we live according to God's original design, we live in peace. A life of peace is only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, who changes us from the inside out.
Let your fear drive you to Christ.
If Christ came to restore the glory of God in us so that we can live as God intended, what do we do with our fears? What is the thing that you are most afraid of? What is the thing that limits your life? What is the thing that if it were removed or changed in your life, you would feel like you could live the kind of life you've always desired? What is that thing?
What will you do with that fear now? Let me suggest two points of application that will help you think through your fears from a biblical perspective. The first thing you do with that fear is let it drive you to Christ. You see, our fears are going to drive us somewhere, because they are what move and impact us. Many people allow their fears to drive them out of their minds. They lay awake at night thinking about them all the time. They wring their hands; their anxieties just overwhelm them. Their fears drive them absolutely crazy.
I think back to the story of Saul in the Old Testament. He was raised up as the first king of Israel, but when Saul was too afraid to fight Goliath, God used a teenage boy named David to do it instead. Suddenly, the hearts of people turned to David, and they applauded a little bit more loudly for David than they did for Saul. Saul began to fear his position. Afraid that David would overthrow the throne, which was not David's intention, Saul began to do the most irrational things: he began to chase and attack and criticize and humiliate David. Saul was a man driven by his fears; he became a maniac.
We do the same thing. We're just like Saul. Overwhelmed by our fears, we can become quite maniacal in the way we deal with them. Let me give you an example. Let's say there's a husband and wife who both work, and one of them loses a job. That's something we've heard happen multiple times here in our church. The couple is now afraid they're not going to be able to make ends meet—they're not going to be able to pay their bills, their standard of living is going to shift, and they begin to be very afraid. So what do they do? I'll share some of the responses I got to this question from couples to which this has happened. It may surprise you.
In one case many years ago, when a woman from a couple lost her job, the couple's solution was to pull away from church, to pull away from ministry, and to pull away from their community. Why did they do this? Because they didn't want anybody in their community to find out they were actually in need and that hard things were happening to them. What a strange, irrational perspective. The very people that could actually help this couple and sympathize with them, surround them and pray for them, and even materially bless them, were the people from whom this couple pulled away. They were driven by their fears and did crazy things.
Another couple in which the husband lost his job ended up getting a divorce. The wife thought her husband was the problem, and rather than approaching the throne of grace to discover how they could together solve this problem, they instead pointed fingers at one another and separated. Do you think their financial problems ceased? Not at all. Their financial problems grew a whole lot worse the moment they made that commitment.
Another couple that faced financial difficulties when one person was laid off actually went out and bought a lot of stuff. No kidding. They took wild vacations; they bought new toys; they redecorated the house. From the outside people were saying, "Are you out of your mind?" But you see, in fear that somehow they were not going to be able to secure their lives and be provided for, they decided to take matters into their own hands, which actually pushed them further into debt.
And then there was a couple who, after job loss, just decided to stop giving altogether. They didn't tithe anymore; they didn't give to ministries; they didn't support missionaries. They pulled back because they needed to tighten up their budget, but they did this not realizing that the reason God allows hardship in life is to push us to dependence on him. By essentially robbing God what was his, this couple actually did the opposite of what God wanted to happen in their lives.
You can tell from each of these stories that even in this one fear, people begin to do irrational things. Their fears drive them to craziness rather than straight to Christ. But you know what? Christ answers every fear in our lives. He answers absolutely every single fear that you and I have in life. That's why he came. When he died on the cross, the disciples were scared to death. He rose from the dead, and the first words that Jesus said to each of these disciples were: Peace, peace. I bring you peace. Christ came to allay your fears and to bring you into a life of peace. He answers every single fear that you have. Think of a fear. A fear of inadequacy? A fear that you don't have what it takes for life? Jesus would say to you: For my divine power has given you everything for life and godliness according to the true knowledge of me who called you by my own purpose and glory. I've given you everything (2 Peter 1:4).
Maybe you fear the past and your own failure. You feel you've really messed up and you're no longer useful to God. Jesus would say to you: If you confess your sins, I'm faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Maybe you fear not having a sense of identity. You're not sure really who you are; you don't really know whether or not you've really been changed by him. Jesus Christ would say to you: If any person is in Christ you are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Maybe you fear insignificance—that you really are not loved or cared for. Maybe there's an incredible sense of loneliness or emptiness in your life. Jesus Christ would say to you: Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Come, come, come. Take my yoke upon you because my burden is easy, my yoke is light. Come over here, come into relationship with me and I'll ease that (Matthew 11:28-30).
Maybe it's financial pressure you fear. Jesus would say to you: Listen, to me. I know it's a challenge, but my God will meet all your needs through me. He'll do that. And I want to redefine riches for you and give you the contentment of resting wholeheartedly on me.
When you're facing fear in your life—when you're wrestling and laying awake at night wringing your hands and trying to figure out how to make it all work—the thing to do is to stop. Stop where you are and ask this question: If I am in Christ and I have trusted Christ, and he is in me and is changing me, in what way does my relationship with Christ answer the fears I have in life? Christ makes all the difference in the world. He would say to you today, "You cast your anxiety on me, because I care for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Don't let your fears drive you to craziness; let them drive you to Christ.
Let faith drive you through your fear.
Rather than letting fear be the force behind our lives, we need to let faith drive us through our fears. We know that when we turn out lives over to Christ, our fears don't just automatically disappear. So how do we handle those fears that remain? We continue to trust him and let that trust in Christ take us straight across the fear. As we trust him, he answers our concerns as he takes us over them.
I think about the mother who fears letting her child go on a mission trip. That mother can choose to let the fears drive her crazy and say, "No way, I'm not letting you leave the country!" Or she can choose to be driven by faith. And as she puts her child on a bus for the border, she might say, God, this is really hard, but I will be driven by faith in you, and I'll let that faith drive me right through this challenge. I'll trust you because you're a God who proves faithful. Let your fears drive you to Christ, and let your faith drive you right through your fears. Trust God because of who he is and what he has done for you.
I heard a story that encouraged me, a little article by a songwriter named John Thomas Oaks. It's a great story to put our hearts in perspective, and I want to read it to you. It's titled, "The Sparrow at Starbucks: The Song that Silenced the Cappuccino Machines."
It was chilly in Manhattan but warm inside the Starbucks shop on 51st Street and Broadway, just a skip up from Times Square. Early November weather in New York City holds only the slightest hint of the bitter chill of late December and January, but it's enough to send the masses crowding indoors to vie for available space and warmth. For a musician, it's the most lucrative Starbucks location in the world, I'm told, and consequently, the tips can be substantial if you play your tunes right. Apparently we were striking all the right chords that night, because our basket was almost overflowing. It was a fun low-pressure gig. I was playing the keyboard and singing backup for my friend who also added rhythm with an arsenal of percussion instruments. We mostly did pop songs from the 40s to the 90s with a few original tunes thrown in.
During our emotional rendition of the classic, "If You Don't Know Me by Now," I noticed a lady sitting in one of the lounge chairs across from me. She was swaying to the beat; she was singing out loud. After the tune was over, she approached me and she said, "I apologize for singing along on that song. Did it bother you?" she asked me. "No, no, no," I replied. "We love it when the audience joins in. Would you like to sing up front on the next selection?" To my delight, she accepted the invitation. "You choose," I said. "What are you in the mood to sing?" She turned to me and she said, "Well, do you know any hymns?" Hymns? The woman didn't know who she was dealing with. I cut my teeth on hymns. Before I was even born, I was going to church. I gave our guest singer a knowing look and I said to her, "Name one." "Oh, I don't know. There are so many good ones. You choose one," she said. "Okay," I replied. "How about 'His Eye is on the Sparrow'?" My new friend was silent, her eyes averted. And then she fixed her eyes on mine again and she said, "Yeah, let's do that one." She slowly nodded her head, she put down her purse, she straightened her jacket, and as she faced the center of the shop and with my two-bar set up, she began to sing: "Why should I be discouraged, why should the shadows come?"
The audience of coffee drinkers was transfixed. Even the gurgling noises of the cappuccino machine ceased as employees stopped what they were doing to listen. And then the song rose to its conclusion: "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free; his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me." It was a holy moment. And when the last note was sung, the applause crescendoed to a deafening roar that would have even rivaled a sold out crown at Carnegie Hall. Embarrassed, the woman tried to shout over the din, "Oh, y'all go back to your coffee, cut it out. I didn't come here to do a concert, I just came in here to get something to drink just like you." But when the ovation continued, I embraced my new friend. "You, my dear, have made my whole year. That was beautiful."
"Well," she said, "it's kind of funny that you picked that particular hymn." "Why is that?" I asked. "Well," she hesitated again, "that was my daughter's favorite song." "Really?" I exclaimed. "Yes," she said, and then she grabbed my hands. By now the applause had subsided and it was business as usual, and she said to me, "My daughter was 16. She died of a brain tumor last week." I said the first thing that found its way through the stunned silence. I said, "Are you going to be okay?" And she smiled through tear-filled eyes, and she squeezed my hands and said, "I'm going to be okay. I've just got to keep trusting the Lord and singing his songs, and everything will be just fine.
Boy, that's so simple. And it is so right. We fear because there's distance between the glory of God and the frail humanity in us. But Christ has bridged the gap, and all of our fears are answered in him—the one who knows what we're going through right now, the one whose eye is on the sparrow, the one who is well aware of our fears, and the one who has brought us amazing peace. So let your fears drive you straight to Christ, and let your faith drive you straight through your fears.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.