Saturday, December 22, 2012

CHRISTMAS HYMN STUDY: ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH



This Christmas hymn came from an old French carol. It was translated into English by James Chadwick in 1862. Chadwick was a Roman Catholic priest and then a bishop.




The hymn is a reflection on Luke 2:13-14, a part of the passage which we often call “the Christmas Story”.

The refrain “Gloria, in excelsis Deo” is Latin. In English it is “glory to God in the highest”. In addition to being taken from the Latin text of Luke 2:14, it is also taken from part of the Roman Catholic liturgy. The full song is called the Greater Doxology. Sometimes it is called “the Gloria”. Here are the words to the Greater Doxology.

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

So, let’s look at the first verse of Angels We Have Heard on High.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
 
This verse is a rendition of the praise of the angels in Luke 2:14. After the angel announced the birth of Christ, a great company of the heavenly host, angels, appeared and praised God. The text says they spoke, but most songs speak of them singing.  It is written from the view point of one who heard the angels praising God.

Now look at the second stanza.
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?
 
This verse deals with Luke 2:20, where the shepherds left Bethlehem praising God for the things they had heard and seen. The shepherds walked along praising God for sending the Messiah for whom the Jews waited


Then the third verse.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

This verse calls people to come to see Jesus and worship him. This is what the Magi did in Matthew 2:11. Jesus is called the “newborn king”, for he is the fulfillment of God’s promise (recorded in 2 Samuel 7) to David of a king from his line who will rule God’s people.  The phrase “adore on bended knee” refers to worship. It is what the Magi did.






Although not a part of the hymn, we remember John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 19 shows that Jesus is a king who will rule all nations with an iron scepter. On his robe and on his thigh the words “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is written. He will rule over all.

Although not a part of the hymn, we remember John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 19 shows that Jesus is a king who will rule all nations with an iron scepter. On his robe and on his thigh the words “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is written. He will rule over all.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

This verse pictures us adoring Jesus as the shepherds and the Magi did. But in this verse, we not only worship him, we love him. We express our love to him who is our savior. 1 John 4:19 says we love because he first loved us. John 3:16 says the Father expressed his love to us by sending his son to save us from our sins. Romans 5:8 tells us both the Father and the Son expressed their love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I have not always felt the love from my fellow drivers on the road this Christmas. But I have felt the love of God. He did not wait for me to come to him to love me. Rather, he loved me and came looking for me when I did not deserve it.

Finally, the refrain says over and over:

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

The angels, higher beings than ourselves, see the incarnation (the birth of Jesus) and say “Glory to God in the highest”. This means glory to God in heaven. They saw the incarnation as an exquisite miracle, a divine expression of glorious grace to mankind and they worshipped God for it. 

So, we should not trivialize it. We should see every expression of the baby Jesus and God became man for our benefit, and praise God for it.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!
 

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