Song of the Angels

Song of the Angels

Song of the Angels.

Please read Luke 2:13-14.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.'” (Luke 2:13-14, NKJ).

First there was the heavenly birth announcement by a lucky, unnamed angel bathed in a blinding light that could only be the glory of Yahweh. The shepherds were minding their own business, and their sheep, in the fields near Bethlehem. And all of  sudden it was bright as high noon. The shepherds were terrified, of course, and didn’t know what to think. They were surrounded by this dazzling light, practically inside of it. The heavenly message assured the shepherds that they didn’t need to be afraid. This is a time to be joyful, not fearful! The Messiah, the Savior has been born in Bethlehem. And this is how you can tell, the angel said… You’ll find the baby in the manger, the feeding trough, wrapped in strips of cloth to make things cozy for the baby.

Then in the blink of an eye the night sky was filled with innumerable angels, myriads upon myriads, a huge multitude of angels that couldn’t be counted. Yahweh-Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, has evidently mustered His army of angels for this unique and special moment. Yahweh-Sabaoth is one of the most popular names for God in Scripture, occurring 260 times in the Hebrew Bible. The Lord of Hosts is the name David gave to his God when facing off with Goliath, for example. The angels in the sky above Bethlehem proved themselves to be singing warriors, obedient to the God of the Angel Armies. Angels indeed intervened quite a few times in Scripture. But there are only two times in which the angels were said to rejoice. “The angels rejoiced when Jesus was born into our world, and when we are born into His!” (Haskell Stone).

This was the heavenly choir with their assignment from Yahweh-Sabaoth to sing praises to God and to point to the reason for the Savior’s coming to earth. The Messiah has come to reconcile humanity with God, bringing peace and healing to the wide chasm between God and the people. On top of that, the Messiah will be an incarnation of love, coming with good intentions toward all people, wanting nothing but the best outcome for all humanity. This song states that the Messiah will look with favor on all people.

Not only will we experience peace with God, we will receive peace from God, that inner peace we enjoy when we cast our anxieties upon Him. The peace that passes understanding, peace of mind, peace of heart, peace of soul. Since our division with God can now be healed because of the Messiah, the people on earth can  now experience peace between each other, a time when hostilities can cease. So, “peace on earth” is quite the mouthful… peace with God, peace from God, peace between each other, all because of the Savior of the world lying in that humble manger, a normal human baby needing to be burped.

What was the melody of that angelic song? Can you imagine the exquisite harmonies being sung by all those angels? In fact, can you imagine any of this incomprehensible scene? This wasn’t a virtual sky filled with computer-generated angels for special effects. This was literally a sky filled with flying, triumphant angels from heaven in full voice.

No wonder the awe-struck shepherds hurried to see this baby. And after they witnessed Him first-hand, they returned to their fields glorifying God. Lowly shepherds were chosen to be the highly privileged audience of a host of angels. Does anyone wonder what happened to those shepherds? This is the last we hear of them for all time. They were eye witnesses to an amazing spectacle, heaven coming to earth to rejoice in the birth of God in the flesh!

Did anyone else hear the Song of the Angels? Was someone awakened in nearby Bethlehem? Did the holy family hear the song? Or were the blue-collar shepherds chosen to be the sole audience. One would think the sheer volume of thousands of angels singing loudly would have been heard by a lot of people. The shepherds, though, seemed to be the only listeners who took note of the other-worldly concert in the sky.

Is there another small grouping of words in the history of the world that have inspired so much beautiful music? The Gloria has been sung from the earliest church right down to the present day over 2,000 years later. There were over 200 melodies for this angelic song in the medieval church alone. The Gloria has been an integral part of Christian worship ever since the angels filled the sky with music. It remains central to daily and weekly worship around the world. Why, the disciples paraphrased the song during the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday… “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Those followers of Jesus started the tradition of referring to the Angelic Hymn that remains as strong as ever.

The angelic Gloria has been used as the introduction to the prayer that has been used since the early church. This full liturgical prayer, also called the Gloria for short, has stood the test of time in every Christian church imaginable. The Song of the Angels is the topic sentence in this prayer, it is the opening lyric that summarizes everything that comes after it. The following is called the “Ecumenical” version of the Gloria:

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father,

we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us;

you are seated at the right hand of the Father; receive our prayer.

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.

There might be some confusion as to which version of the Angelic Hymn is the correct one. One could look up the Gloria in all the Bible translations and find slightly different wordings in each one. Evidently there is some controversy over which Greek manuscript is the original one, and thus which version takes precedence. Unfortunately, there may not be a definitive version that all the scholars can agree with. Is it “peace among men with whom He is pleased” (NASB); or “Peace to men on whom His favor rests” (NIV); or “Peace toward men of goodwill“; or “Peace, goodwill among men” (RSV); or simply “Peace to his people on earth” (Authorized in BCP)? Many tend to refer to the New King Kames version, “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Because the words of Luke 2:10 tell of the “good news of great joy that will be for all people,’ it can be assumed that God’s good will is intended for all people, not just for those who are pleasing to Him or to those whom He favors.  In fact a convincing case can be made that Luke’s Gloria mirrors an ancient Jewish liturgy. Another way of saying this is that Luke recorded the Gloria as quoted literally from the singing of the angels. While the Gloria is certainly one of those songs circulating round the Throne in heaven, it happens to parallel another song from heaven that is also sung by the angels, in Isaiah 6:3, often called the Sanctus.

Everywhere one looks one can find Jewish roots to the Christian faith. The Gloria is no exception. Noted Hebrew scholar Dr. David Flusser makes the case that the Gloria as it is sung in the gospel of Luke appears to be a paraphrase of the Jewish liturgy based on Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory!”

One particular Jewish liturgical paraphrase to Is. 6:3 reads like this: “Holy in the highest heaven His glory; Holy upon earth His peace; Holy toward humankind His goodwill.” It seems clear that the three stanzas of the Gloria dovetail with the original meaning of the Jewish liturgy. God’s holiness manifests itself  in the highest heaven as His glory, on earth as His peace, and among human beings as His goodwill. The gospel of Jesus is sung clearly in this Song of the Angels, for “God’s heavenly peace is taking effect on earth as His divine goodwill is bestowed upon humankind.” (Flusser).