23rd December

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ (Luke 2:13-15)

In 2015, singer Ellie Goulding released the song “Army”. It has a very catchy refrain: “When I’m with you … I’m standing with an army”. There is good evidence to believe that the song is about a close friend of Ellie’s who was there for her in difficult times. In these verses, the angel is joined by a multitude, an army of angels (v.13). This is something I had missed up until recently; but imagine the effect on the shepherds of a whole army of angels singing!

Their song is powerful; it is a song of glory to God. The second half of v.14 is much-discussed. It could be translated: “among men characterised by good will/favour” or “people to whom God shows good will/favour”. Most modern translations (including the NIV here) edge towards the second interpretation, and this seems reasonable. The angel told the shepherds that this good news would be for all people (Luke 2:10); so too is this peace for all people who believe. The word for good will/favour (eudokia) also features in the account of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:11: God shows his favour towards His Son; and will show favour towards those who trust Him.

The angels leave, and the focus switches back to the shepherds. They are collectively moved to swift and decisive action: they decide to go straight to Bethlehem to see the baby (v.15). They trust in what the angel has told and made known to them. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them of the gospel which he preached, which they are at risk of forgetting. He uses the same verb as in Luke 2:15 (gnorizo) for the truth he told and made known to them. Paul continues that they received this truth and took their stand upon it (1 Corinthians 15:1). We, too, can take a stand, knowing we do so with an army, led by Christ: the one who defeated death to bring us back into friendship and relationship with God.

That’s what I’ll seek to remember next time I hear Ellie Goulding on the radio.

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