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Edward F. Markquart


Christmas Eve or Day     Luke 2:1-20             

Why did the angels sing the Gloria?  Why did the shepherds sing the Gloria? Why do we sing the Gloria?

Enjoyment of singing is one of the gifts that God has given to almost all of us.  A person can have a great voice like Claudia Petersen and other members in the choir and enjoy singing very much.  A person can have a common and rather ordinary voice like myself and still enjoy singing.  Or, you can have an absolutely lousy, terrible, awful voice, and you, too, can enjoy singing.  Singing is a gift of God for all to enjoy. 

When I think of lousy singers enjoying singing, I recall Howard Wills from years ago. I recall standing outside the door to the old sanctuary and listening to the voice of Howard Wills through the door.  He was a perfect monotone, and his singing voice sounded like a gravel truck, stuck in low gear, rumbling, grumbling along. His voice would rumble, “Glooooria.”  And he would sing to his heart’s content, not at all timidly like people thought he should.  But Howard would like to bellow out those hymns in his gravely voice.  If ever on a Sunday I picked an unfamiliar hymn, Howard was the first to complain, telling me that he couldn’t sing that particular hymn very well.  Howard is proof that you don’t have to have a good voice to enjoy singing.  You can have a voice that sounds like a gravel truck and still enjoy it. 

Now, one of the aspects of singing that almost all of us enjoy is the singing of Christmas carols.  I mean, some of you most crusty, ornery, hard soled people who would never open a hymn book, who would never open a mouth in order to sing, when it comes to Christmas and those Christmas carols, you people start singing songs like Silent Night.  Even you, start singing Silent Night, and your heart melts and your vocal cords loosen up and you, too, want to sing that precious carol.  My question is:  why?  Why?  Because we love the words. We love the familiar melodies. We love the emotional lift that certain Christmas carols give us. 

A favorite carol of almost everybody is the carol, “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and one reason that this carol is such a favorite is because people actually know the chorus.  And so if you are out caroling with a group of people, and you finally get to the chorus, everybody can sing, (pastor sings) “Glooooooooooooria. In Excelsis Deo.”  When you get to the second stanza, things start to fall apart and only the better singers know the words and the words go like this:  (sung) “Shepherds why this jubilee, dadadadadadada. What glad tidings do we bring dadaddadadadadada.”  And then finally, everyone can again belt out the one-word chorus:  “Gloooooooooooooria.”  We all do it.  And the third stanza is even worse for us none singers, but we love it when it comes to the Gloria because we know the one-word chorus of the Gloria very well.  We go for the Gloria.

It is with this mood that we approach the sermon for tonight and that important question:  Why did the angels sing the Gloria?  Why did the shepherds sing the Gloria?  Why do we sing the Gloria?

The setting was this:  the angels had come to the shepherds.  There were shepherds out in the fields, watching their flocks by night, and an angel of the Lord came to them, and the glory of the Lord was all around them, and the shepherds were very much afraid.  The angel said to them:  Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people, for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This shall be a sign for you, you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  Suddenly, there was with that angel, a multitude of heavenly hosts, hundreds of thousands of angels together, singing, with a female sound (women in choir, no organ, no pause): Glooooooooooooooia, in excelsis deo. (The surprise singing in this sermon is fun, and everyone enjoys the planned-in-advance surprise.)

Now, why?  Why were those angels singing the Gloria?  Why?   Because they had been told that the Christ child was for them, and understanding that the Christ child was for them personally, they began to sing the Gloria. 

So, initially, after the angels had sung for the shepherds, the shepherds did not understand.  They did not understand that the Christ child was for them, and therefore initially, they did not sing the Gloria.  The shepherds finally came to the manger, to the cave where Jesus was sleeping in the straw, and Mary took the child from the manger of straw and gave the child to the shepherds and said:  For you, for you is born this day.”  And a shepherd took the baby into his arms and asked:  For me? For us?  When the shepherds finally understood that the Christ child was to be their very own, the Bible goes on to say, then the shepherds went home, glorifying God singing in a male sound, (men in choir, no organ, no pause) “Glooooooooooooooria. In Excelsis Deo.”

Then the angel takes us, you and me, to the manger and Mary picks up the baby, the Christ child, and the baby Jesus is placed into your hands, and you take the Christ child and you hold the Christ child to your breast, and you look into his eyes, and you realize, deeply, that the Christ child is for you.  When you realize the Christ child is your very own, it is then that you start to sing  (pastor sings) “Gloooooooooooria. In Excelis Deo.”

The word, Gloria, comes from the word, glory. The glory is the Jewish Shekinah.  The Shekinah is glory is the Divine Presence of God.  In the Old Testament, the glorious Presence of God was the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day. You could see the pillar of fire; you could see the cloud.   The glory Presence of God is ultra bright.  God’s glory is firey light.  God’s glory above us is the glow-ria of the angels in the sky.  The glowing Presence of the angels in the sky then becomes the glowing Presence of God in one’s own heart.  The glow from the sky becomes the glowing fire of God within.  When you realize that Christ is for you, your very own, you then begin to sense the glow-ria, an inner glow, a glow-ria in one’s heart.  When there is a glow-ria in one’s heart, one begins to sing the Gloria on one’s lips. The glowing light goes from sky to heart to lips.

Let me explain by the following simple analogies. … I would like to ask you a question:  How many of you have Christmas trees?  Do you have Christmas trees at your house?  I need to ask you another question:  How many of you have Christmas presents under the Christmas tree?  Good. How many of you have a Christmas present with your name on it?  How sad it would be for you if you didn’t have a Christmas present under the tree with your name on it, which was your very own present. 

Some four hundred years ago, Martin Luther wrote the following words.  Luther’s words are a key to Christmas.  He wrote:  “Of what benefit would it be to me if Jesus would have been born a thousand times and it would have been sung daily in my ears that Jesus Christ was born, but that I was never to hear that Jesus Christ was born for me?”  That Jesus was to be my very own. 

Some of you children who are here tonight, do you remember your first tricycle?  Or how about when you grew a little older and you were given our first bike, your first bicycle?  Your own bike?  Not your neighbors.  Not your friends.  Not your brother’s or sister’s but your very own bicycle?  Do you remember the thrill, the glow that you felt about that?  Or, do you remember your first car?  I bet you do.  Do you remember the feeling inside when you drove that first car?  I keenly remember that ’49 brown Chevrolet.  I can still see it and smell it from so many years ago, because it was my first, very own car. Or, how about that first apartment, with the crumby furniture, where you could do what you wanted to do with the place in which you were living?  There was an inner glow, a glowing satisfaction.  Or how about your first home?  For those of you who have a home, do you remember that first little spot you had that you called a home?  The backyard.  The kitchen.  The old bathroom of your first home?  Do you remember that glowing satisfaction of having your first home.  Or do you remember your first child?  That first child that was born or adopted your very own, and the glow that was inside of you?  How can you forget the inner glow that accompanied your first child?  Yes, we all remember the inner satisfaction and inner glow from our first tricycle, bicycle, car, apartment, home, and child, when these became our very own.

It doesn’t seem that long ago.  It is as clear as yesterday.  It was in the morning, 6:30, a Sunday morning, and I heard the patter of little feet.  The patter of the feet came into the kitchen, and it was dark in our kitchen except for the light above the kitchen table.  I was putting the finishing touches on the Sunday sermon, and the little child came in half asleep, and he said to me, “Where’s the scissors, Dad?”  I gave him the scissors and he went over to where there was a chain which was made of paper, a paper chain link for each of the days of Advent. He went and cut off the chain and said, “Dad, one more day to Christmas!”  Then that little boy got up into my lap, and he put his arms around my neck, and he just sat there and hugged me, for what seemed like five minutes of stillness and five minutes of love.  I put my arms around his little body and that child was my very own, my very own child, belonging to the world, belonging to my wife, belonging to his family, belonging to God, but also, belonging to me, my very own. And there was an inner glow of satisfaction deep within me.

And when you finally realize that Christ is your very own, not only for all the world, not only for all the shepherds, not only for all the angels, but when you realize that Christ is your very own, then there becomes a glow in your heart, and you begin to sing the Gloria. 

It was interesting for me recently, that I walked through the Gospel of Luke.  I was tracing the word, Gloria, in the Gospel of Luke.  I was trying to decipher when people were feeling and singing the Gloria in the Gospel of Luke, and there are seven stories, seven places where people felt and sang the Gloria in Luke’s Gospel.  All seven stories are very much alike. 

The first one was this:  it was a story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and an angel came to Mary and said:  “Mary, I am going to give you a baby for your very own who will be the Messiah, the Son of God.”  And Mary, realizing the child was to be her very own, started to rock back and forth in her rocking chair and she started to sing (one soprano voice, no organ, no pause) “Glooooooooooooooria.”  When there is the glow of God inside of you, there is the Gloria of God on one’s lips. 

Then the Gospel of Luke continues and you meet a little boy who had become an eighteen-year old or a nineteen-year old young man.  He had been paralyzed all of his life, if you can imagine that.  Jesus had come to his village one day and seemed to heal all of the people who were sick.  His friends, his big strong friends, went and cut a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching, and his friends lowered the boy who was now a young man down through the roof and into the house in front of Jesus. Talk about an illustration of persistence. Four friends to lower a body of a sick friend through the roof so he could be healed? That is persistence. Jesus healed the young man.  When the young man realized that the healing was his very own and that his inner healing came from God, he turned and looked at Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke, and said (one tenor voice, no organ, no pause): “Glooooooooooria.”  When there is a glow of God in your heart, the Gloria is found on your lips.

Then, we move forward in the gospel and come to the story of the ten lepers.  Do you remember the story of the ten lepers in the Gospel of Luke?  All ten lepers were healed, and all ten lepers left Jesus.  None of them sang the Gloria.  Not one of them sang the glorious song.  They had all been healed.  Then, it finally dawned on the one leper, and he went back when he realized the gift of healing had come from Jesus.  The healed leper went back to Jesus with a glow in his heart.  He said to Jesus, “Thank you.”  According to the Scriptures, he left Jesus, singing with all his heart (one alto voice, no organ, no pause): “Glooooooooria.”  When the glow of God is in your heart, you begin to sing the Gloria. 

There are other stories in the Gospel of Luke, but we come to the last story.  It is the concluding story in the Gospel of Luke and it is the story of the centurian, that crusty soldier from Rome, thousands of miles from his home, living out in a desert, in the Middle East.  There outside of Jerusalem, there in charge of executions, a crummy job if one ever had one, a man so very far from home, seeing the execution of a common criminal, seeing the ground starting to shake and knowing that there was something happening to him and inside of him. The earth began to a quake and so did his heart. The rocks of the earth were quaking and the rocks of his heart were quaking, so that God could slip in through the cracks into his heart. He then saw the glory of God as never before, and that centurian said, “Certainly, this is the Son of God.”  Miraculously knowing that the Son of God was for him, that centurian out there on a remote deserted hill, quietly sang so only a few around him could hear (one bass voice, no organ, no pause):  “Gloooooooooooria.” 

Do you see?  Do you understand?  Do you finally realize that the Christ child is for you, …that the gift of eternal life is for you, …that the gift of God’s healing is for you … that the gift of God’s forgiveness is for you  … that the gift of a new birth of love is for you.  When finally understand that Christ is for you, you take Christ into your arms and you hold him.  You hold him in your arms and you understand, and when you understand, there is the glow-ria in your heart, and you begin to sing the Gloria. 

Let us together sing, the Gloria.  (Organ leads, and the whole congregation joins in singing the refrain of the Gloria.)  Amen.  

Advent/Christmas Gift:  If you as a pastor have found the sermons from this website helpful in your preaching, please consider giving a gift to Lutheran World Relief as an expression of your appreciation. Contact and mention Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Washington, the congregation which has given Pastor Markquart time to make these sermons available to you free of charge. Pastor Markquart served on the Board of Lutheran World Relief for twelve years. He believes LWR is both effective (great partnerships with 150 indigenous partner agencies located in 50 countries) and efficient (administrative overhead of about 10%) in its work to combat hunger and injustice around the globe. 

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