The Favor of God

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:14 

Dear members and friends,

In Luke, there is the beautiful story about angels appearing to the shepherds who were watching over their flock at night. Somehow, God chose to send angels only to those shepherds to announce the birth of the Christ baby. This is a very iconic moment in the Bible because the shepherd is an ideal symbol for the Messiah. In John, even Jesus emphasizes, “I am the good shepherd.” Swedenborg explains that the shepherds symbolize those who are cultivating good from charity, meaning they are the ones who are living the life of good for the sake of goodness itself. In a way, this is the highest form of living a spiritual life. In this story of angels and shepherds, there is a phrase, “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” When I read this for the first time, I asked a youth pastor, “who are ‘those whom God favors?’” The youth pastor told me that “those whom he favors” are us, Christians. At that time, I did not have any problem accepting it because I was included. Then, as I was thinking more about it, and reading it over the years, three simple factors arose in my mind: 1. The shepherds in Luke were not Christians, because they were Jews; 2. The history of Christianity appears to be nothing but peaceful, so what does it mean by “peace among those whom he favors?”; 3. What about all the good people who are not Christian? 

Just like many teachings with spiritual depth, it took me a long time to understand the meaning of “those whom he favors” from Luke. A hint to understand its meaning could be found in its original language. The Greek word that is translated as “those whom he favors” is eudokia, which means “good pleasure.” Eudokia could also be translated as “good-will,” “favor,” “good-pleasure,” or “happiness.” When we consider the context of Luke 2:14, eudokia might mean good pleasure caused by those people whose lives please God. So, what kind of people please God? In Isaiah, God proclaims, “Stop doing wrong! Learn to do good. Be fair to other people. Punish those who hurt others. Help the orphans. Stand up for the rights of widows.” (1:16&17) In fact, throughout the entire Old Testament, God repeatedly emphasizes the importance of cultivating the qualities of justice, righteousness, fairness, and mercy. In other words, the favor of God is not something that is just given because of our race, affiliation, or self-proclaimed righteousness, but because of the integrity of heart that is genuinely displayed in our daily life. Regarding this, Emanuel Swedenborg emphasizes that “heaven is not a place to enter, but a reality that has to be formed within ourselves by our own conscious choices.” 

My brothers and sisters in God, on this coming Sunday we will celebrate the birth of Messiah, the Christ baby. Let us take a moment and make it sacred by putting away all those worldly thoughts, pleasures, and excitements, and reflect on the heart of the Advent message: “love one another as I have loved you.”    

with Christmas Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee