Perhaps you are familiar with the expression "ear worm". Most of us have experienced an annoying snatch of song that sticks in our memory and plays over and over inside our heads.
The refrain from the Christmas hymn Angels we have heard on high is an ear worm for me. You probably know it: "Glo-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-ria in excelsis Deo!" which is Latin for "Glory to God in the highest". This year for Advent, I decided to research the Bible passage on which the song is based, since "Gloria" has haunted me since 1961.
Luke 2:8-11,13-14 – And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." (NIV)
E. W. Bullinger's notes on Greek and Hebrew word meanings and grammar published in The Companion Bible (1922) provide an intriguing comment on the vocabulary and word order for the original Greek of Luke 2:14. Bullinger says that the great company of the heavenly army first praised God with "Glory in the Highest [heaven] [be] to God," then added, "Glory upon earth springing from God. Peace from God among [favoured] men".
The Pat Bell paraphrase based on Bullinger has become: A great company of the heavenly army were saying as one, with emphatic, barely-constrained glee, "Praise God! His glory is in heaven, and now, the gift of Messiah for all people — God's heaven-sent, redemptive glory and God's peace — has come to earth from the Father to live among His favoured creation, human beings."
Have you ever wondered, "What's the big deal? Why a spectacular sound and light performance in the night sky for some scruffy shepherds? Why did an angel and then a great company of the heavenly army announce the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem?" I think that they were ecstatic to call attention to the Best News Ever: "Messiah! God's honour, loving authority, and weighty influence are embodied in this newborn! God's shalom, God's way of being complete and safe has come to all people!"
Does the form and content of the angels' Nativity Extravaganza haunt you, too?
Prayer: Father, we sing with awed gusto, "Glo-o-oria in excelsis Deo, Glo-o-oria in excelsis Deo!" In the powerful name of Christ Jesus our Lord, we ask, please let us "get" the Best News Ever. May hope expressed as our Saviour be born anew, magnificent to live in our hearts this Christmas and through the coming years. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "Angels We Have Heard On High" (Lyrics)