Recent years have bought us many new and wonderful Christmas songs, but one of my most favorite carols has always been the old standard “Angels We Have Heard on High.” I can clearly remember standing in the church congregation when I was young, belting out the chorus as the pipe organ shook the walls with the familiar chorus…..
♪ ♫ ♪ Glor-or-or-or-or-ia, In Excelsis Deo! ♫ ♪ ♫
I don’t know if it was because part of the refrain is in Latin that made me feel more holy or something, but I used to try to imagine what it would have been like to fly over the peaceful hills of Judea and join in with that first angel choir singing the praises of the new born King.
That is until recently…
Don’t get me wrong, I still have warm feelings about the song, but I wonder if maybe some of those Christmas favorites have left us with an inaccurate picture of what the angelic announcement to those Bethlehem shepherds actually looked like.
In scripture, the angels primary assignment is to compose the body of the vast army of God described as the “host of heaven.” But because of changes in our language, the word “host” can be misunderstood and maybe bring to mind images of Martha Stewart rather than what the original text means. The definition for this word in the Greek refers to an army, band of soldiers, or military unit. In that light, the ‘heavenly host’ in Luke 2:13 takes on a completely different feel than we get from the average Christmas carol or holiday illustration.
With this in mind, it’s likely that at the birth of Christ, the skies weren’t filled with a gentle, harp-playing celestial choir. Instead, the night was lit up by the presence of the mighty, powerful, fearsome warriors of the Most High God!
And what of their announcement? As the first angel concluded his message to the shepherds, the battalions burst forth with their own shouts of praise. But what if their words were more of a bold proclamation than a melody? (After all, the text doesn’t actually say they were singing, only praising God.)
And what if their battle armor told a story that mortal language could not express? Weary from millenniums of fighting the forces of darkness, perhaps in jubilation, they showed up to deliver to those shepherds (and us) the “good news” that the birth of the Christ-child meant that the enmity between God and man was finally over.
“Peace on earth,” they exclaimed!
What an declaration! The rift and animosity that sin caused so long ago in Garden would soon be repaired through the sacrifice of the life of the perfect child who lay nearby in a humble manger.
No wonder the angels rejoiced! The miracle of Christmas that began with Christ’s birth would pave the way for restoration between God and His beloved people and to bring about ultimate “peace,” “good will” and “rest” (Luke 2:14) for all those who believe.
As you sing your Christmas favorites, I encourage you to rethink what the angels may have truly been celebrating – and what we need to celebrate as well. In that spirit, I’d appreciate your indulgence as I try to set a new tone to this season’s contemplation by borrowing the title of John Lennon’s familiar Christmas song, and giving it a fresh and spiritual spin –