Favored by God
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14)
This was the message the shepherds heard from a choir of angels one cold, dark night as they sat keeping track of their sheep in the Judean wilderness. These were not people who were favored by anyone in their society. In fact, shepherds were considered low-life’s: people who tended not to pay close attention to Jewish law, and whose lives were good for nothing except lazily standing around and watching sheep.
This being the case, it must have come as a great surprise to them that they were included among the favored of God. How could that be? They certainly did not feel favored by anyone else. Moreover, I would suggest that, even apart from the disfavor of others, were they to reflect on their own lives, they probably saw nothing in themselves worthy of being favored. So how is it that they could possibly be favored by a holy God who, according to Moses, demanded holiness from his people?
This is not a new question, nor is it a question limited to those who tend to live with the disfavor of those who are identified as the “elite” in any given society. In fact, it was the question that plagued the people of “Christendom” both before and after Luther’s time. And now that the idea that the west is “Christendom” has become nothing more than a subject for the history books; now that the west has become secular, and God has seemed to have disappeared from the scene, nevertheless it continues to be a question that all people are concerned with.
From the time we are children, present in our hearts is the question; “am I favored?” We need to be favored – valued is another way of putting it – by our families, in our community, and in the larger society. When people are not favored, or when they don’t feel favored, there is pain, isolation, and loneliness. There will also be attempts to gain favor through people – pleasing works, achievements, honors, or self-sacrifice. Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing this through public displays of piety. (Matthew 6:1-18). In the middle ages, people tried to gain favor both from God and the religious authorities – and everyone else for that matter – by works of charity, adoring relics, going on pilgrimages, and saying canned prayers. In secular societies, gaining favor is a matter of status, achievement, and wealth.
Of course, it must be said that most of these things are not bad in and of themselves. When a person engages in works of charity, or when someone achieves great things or earns a high honor because they are driven by a desire to serve their community, use their God-given gifts, or make the world a better place for others, they are then “fruits” of the Spirit. They become people through whom God’s work is done, even sometimes when they don’t know it. However, when they are done for the secondary gain of earning favor from others, they are signs of a broken heart.
This brings me back to the shepherds who are symbols for all of us. The favor the angels proclaimed came from the heart of God. And from the heart of God was begotten the Son who became flesh in Jesus Christ. This is where the favor of God resides: in the One who was born when the angels appeared to those broken hearted people who longed for the favor of their creator, just as we do.
This is why we can’t earn God’s favor or gain it through works of any kind, religious or otherwise. As well meaning as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were, or those of today may be: as much as they may earn the favor of people who themselves have similar ambitions, their hearts will remain empty, restless, and without peace. Because God’s favor resides in Christ, we need him to have the favor of God. Through faith, Christ lives in us. Through faith, Christ gives himself to us. As the gospel hymn puts is, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine.”
When we have Christ, we have the favor that comes from the heart of God, and that makes us children of God, and co-heirs with Christ of eternal life. These are the ones of whom the angels sang when they proclaimed “… peace among those whom he favors.” “Those” were the people who had Christ in their hearts.
Gracious God, with hearts filled with gratitude and peace, we give you thanks for the gift of Jesus.