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Christmas Reflection

posted Jan 3, 2017, 12:56 AM by Peter Dyer

 “ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those he favours!’ “


At our Christmas Eve service I was struck by the translation read of Luke 2 13 which  referred to the ‘armies of heaven’. The Good News and the Living  Bible have these words and, of course, they are right. The word ‘host’ has come also to mean a multitude but this would give us ‘a multitude of the heavenly multitude’ which is not really saying much.  In fact Luke’s Greek has the word for ‘army’ which is ‘stratia’ .  This is what the Hebrew ‘ Yahweh Sabaoth’ means: ‘LORD of armies,’  or ‘hosts’. In Jeremiah’s time the heavenly host were taken to be the stars, and worship of the stars was condemned by him.(19.13). But think of our modern knowledge of the multitude of the stars in the night sky, and then apply that number to God’s heavenly armies of angels!


So at our service of carols and readings when the baby Jesus was laid in the crib in the poor stable, I had the contrasting vision of the heavenly armies in battle array, of  Michael who slays the dragon, that old serpent, of Gabriel,  Raphael and all the rest of their hosts.  What power is symbolized by that enormous number of heavenly beings!  They are an icon of the omnipotence of God.  So Luke juxtaposes that enormous spiritual power with the weakness and frailty of the  baby in the manger. For all his vulnerability in a dangerous world, he comes with a message endorsed and underwritten by the armies of heaven.


“Glory to God in highest heaven!” The armies of heaven not only wield power, they sing praise, praise not only for who God is, but for what he is now doing  in this special birth. The involvement of angels signals the divine importance of the great events of salvation history.  So Luke tells of Gabriel’s message to virgin Mary, and of the two angels with the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the women at his tomb.  Perhaps this is another contrast Luke intends: the fortissimo of the massed choirs of the heavenly armies as an accompaniment to the pianissimo baby noises in the crib!


“. . . and on earth peace among those he favours.”  We do not usually associate armies with peace. Think of Aleppo. But the heavenly armies sing of peace. There is a worrying uncertainty about the meaning.  “Good will towards men” i.e. humans (not males!) has a universal scope. The other translation, which is more usual in modern versions, could be universal, if  those he favours is humanity, but it could be a restricted number who receive God’s favour and his gift of peace. As John wrote,  ‘but to those who received him . . . he gave the power to become children of God.’  Can one enjoy peace without the prince of peace, or walk in the light without the light of the one who enlightens every one?


Power, praise and peace.  These are the notes of the armies of amgels! May we be ressured in our trust in the powers of heaven, may we join our daily praise to that of the heavenly hosts, and may we and our world know God’s peace in the year to come!

Rodney Wood