January 4, 2020

Subject: Entering 2020: “Angels We Have Heard On High” Part 1 – Being Confronted with God’s Glory

Luke 2:9 “The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.”

Ed Croteau

As we enter a new year it’s an American custom to make New Year’s Resolutions, where we like to think of ways to better ourselves. We think of how to correct or improve areas of our lives that will yield positive results. This self-focus has the same goal every year: self-improvement. But can we try something new?

In my profession, we train businesses to be innovative, which means “to implement new ideas that create value”. To innovate requires that you think in new ways. But new ideas alone aren’t worth anything. These new ideas must create value. And creating value will never happen if that new idea isn’t implemented. So, let’s take this concept of innovation and apply it to a New Year’s Resolution by using one innovation technique called “Reversing Assumptions”, where you take what others say is “the way things are done around here”, and you reverse it. You show no respect for popular opinion. You become a contrarian.

So, let’s be innovative in 2020, and reverse the assumption by asking a few questions: “What if we didn’t focus on improving ourselves? What if we put our full attention in 2020 on the One who made us? How would this change our perspective on our lives, and our behavior?” This would be a radical approach to 2020. But it’s not radical to God – it’s biblical. And it’s the basis of one of our favorite Christmas Carols.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” was written by James Chadwick in 1862. The song’s focus is the birth of Jesus Christ as found in the Gospel of Luke. Its full context is captured in Luke 2:8-14, as shepherds tending their sheep on the hillsides of Bethlehem are confronted by angels who direct them to a feed trough where the Savior of mankind is to be born. As we examine verses 8-9, our goal is to understand how being in the presence of the glory of God would change our perspective on our life and our behavior.

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid” (Luke 2:8-9). The reaction of the shepherds, to be “greatly afraid”, means to be terrified, which we’d translate in our modern-day English as “scared to death”, as in a life-or-death situation. What was so terrifying to these shepherds that they thought they were about to die?

A parallel incident happened 730 years before, when a man named Isaiah was called by God Himself to be a prophet to the nation of Israel: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood 6 seraphim; each one had 6 wings; with 2 he covered his face, with 2 he covered his feet, and with 2 he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4).

The parallel with Isaiah’s calling and the shepherds being called to the location of Christ’s birth is found in mortal men being exposed to the glory of God in their midst. Luke 2:8 explains the terror in the shepherds, and Isaiah 6:5 explains the terror in Isaiah to be in the presence of God’s glory: “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am destroyed! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah, like the shepherds, expects his life is over.

Why were both Isaiah and the shepherds terrified to be in the presence of God’s glory? Because He is “holy”, which is an adjective that can only apply to God. It means He is set apart in His essence from all things material and immaterial – He is morally perfect and undefiled in character and conduct, and no thing can stand in His presence and survive. He explained this to Moses and Aaron in Leviticus 10:3: “By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”

When was the last time that our perspective of who God has caused us to be terrified? In our comfortable American culture, we often view God as the One we turn to when things get tough, as the One there to solve our problems. Maybe even our “Life Coach” who helps us improve ourselves? Yet, in the book of Proverbs the author tells us the key to wisdom starts with fearing God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

This might be a very innovative way to enter 2020 – with the same sense of fear that motivated the prophet Isaiah and the shepherds in Bethlehem. It is only this perspective that will make us wise in 2020.

Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.