"Are we wearing angel costumes tonight, Miss Bethany?" asked one of my Sunday School choir students right before the Christmas program. As much as my heart sank to tell her, "No, will not have costumes to wear," I continued to beam with joy in the anticipation of the children's voices during the Christmas program that afternoon. All around me the "Shepherds' Christmas stage" was set. Parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors flocked in like shepherds, familiar with the toils and struggles of this life. As good parents, of course, they wanted to hear their children. But as sinners, they were ready to hear the Gospel, which was proclaimed on this night from the "mouths of children...a stronghold against [God's] enemies," the true good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. These "shepherds" sat in the pews with nothing but empty hands, ready to hear, ready to receive.
We, like the shepherds that Christmas night, carry the weight of sin upon our shoulders, tending to the suffering and cares of this darkened world. We shudder with the coldness of our hearts, knowing that there is nothing from within ourselves that can provide warmth. Our idols cannot save us, the world cannot save us, and our own works cannot save us. We are left only to receive what comes to us outside of this world. We look for a light amidst the darkness, a rose amidst the thorns, a sign of life amidst the ever-present gloom of death, a true treasure of joy and comfort amidst the world's own treasures of wealth and glory.
Though there were no white robes flashing with brightness, no wings hovering behind little shoulders, no sparkling gold on the children that afternoon, the words from the mouths of angels still resonated in splendor, "Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven's all gracious King!" The children spoke of the Word made flesh, our Savior as foretold by ancient prophecies, the One who would "save us all from Satan's power when we have gone astray." Their music sparkled like stars and floated to the shepherds' ears with true gift of the Gospel, and their faces lit up with joy that filled their hearts with the gift of this Baby, born to save us from our sins.
We may await the angel costumes every year, but that doesn't mean that the "Shepherds' Christmas stage" is set only once a year as well. Since the beginning of creation, God's Word continues to shine everyday, and it carries the Gospel in full splendor exactly where He has promised. Shortly after the angels appeared, they directed the shepherds where the Savior was to be found. From the mouths of angels came the good news, along with the proclamation of the place in which this good news is actually present.
This "Shepherds' Christmas stage" is set every week in the Divine Service, where we come before God as sinners with empty hands in need of forgiveness. The "Gloria" that we sing at the beginning is the message of the angels, taken from the Christmas narrative, and it proclaims the true peace given to us in Christ, who takes away the sin of the world. It directs us toward the readings of this Word made flesh, the preaching of God's Law and Gospel for sinners, and the presence of Jesus in the Lord's Supper-our true "Christ's Mass" given to us as we share in the blessings of the cross.
The shepherds ran to the presence of Jesus because of the faith they had received. This faith sees Jesus' manger as a paradise for meek souls, His humble stall as a cradle that holds heaven on earth, and the little town of Bethlehem as the place in which the true glory of God came to dwell in mercy mild. The shepherds heard and received, just like Mary and Joseph, and just like you and me.
God continues to use what is meek and lowly to reveal His glory to us. Even out of the mouths of children He continues to silence the devil and His foes, to still the broken hearts of sinners, and to turn the hearts of his faithful people from sadness into greater gladness and bliss that holds fast to the death and resurrection that we share with Christ. We approach Jesus' manger of Himself because of the cross, and we, in the cradle of faith, share in this cradle of eternal life brought to us that Christmas night.
Whether or not there are angel costumes, the Gospel still comes as it did from the mouths of angels that Christmas night, and it sings a song of salvation more beautiful than any treasures this world holds:
O Jesus Christ,
Thy Manger Is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord
Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; here in Thy grace forth shineth.
What glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host
Can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.
The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.
- LSB 372:1,5,6
Bethany Woelmer is a member at St. John's Lutheran Church in Topeka, KS, and a graduate student in church music at the University of Kansas.
Created: December 28th, 2015