We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
Glory To God In The Highest
“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, good will towards men.”
From the invisible world that surrounds us, an incalculable host of angels suddenly appears to the shepherds. Joyfully they have come to join the messenger angel in praising God for earth’s newborn King. Throughout the ages the angels have eagerly watched as the human story plays out (Ephesians 3:10; I Peter 1:12). They “shouted for joy” at the creation (Job 38:7), and have now appeared to celebrate Messiah’s birth.
Contrary to Christmas cards and carols, these angels are not singing, but “saying” their praise to God. Surely their spoken voices must have sounded heavenly, as one host cried out to the other: “Glory to God in the highest”, and as the other host answered back: “And on earth, peace, good will towards men”.
From earth’s beginning the angels have observed the mighty works of God, ascribing Him all glory. But now, at Messiah’s birth, angels see God’s glory displayed “in the highest”. Yes, God is glorified in His creation, but salvation is His greatest glory. Salvation is His glory “in the highest”.
Charles Jennens and George Frederic Handel carefully followed the King James text as they prepared Messiah. But contemporary translations of the Bible render the last line of the angels’ praise differently. Instead of “on earth, peace, good will towards men”, they render it: “on earth peace among those whom God favors.” While the modern translations are probably more accurate, the shepherds would have been ecstatic whatever the translation! God was at peace with them!
Heaven’s angels rejoiced because they knew that this baby born in the manger was the long promised “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). But shepherds of Judea would have heard the announcement of peace as the Hebrew shalom. For them, shalom meant far more than just the cessation of hostilities; shalom meant the fullness of all God’s blessings.
It is unlikely that the shepherds knew all that the coming of God’s peace would mean, but they knew at least that it meant God was at peace with them. Messiah would be our “at-one-ment”, as He would make our peace with God (Romans 5:1).
From peace with God through Messiah, there can grow a deep peace within. This can be the peace the Apostle Paul described from a Roman prison: “the peace of God which passeth all human understanding”(Philippians 4:7). Here is peace with God, and the very peace of God! It all comes through our Messiah, God’s Prince of Peace!
Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones, remarked that early Christians did not say despairingly, “Look at what our world’s coming to!” Rather, they pointed joyfully to Jesus and said, “Look what has come to our world!”
Handel’s theatrical genius comes through in today’s music as he takes listeners through three scene changes. The first scene is the sound of angels hovering above the shepherds. The solo voice is highlighted with accompaniment, rapid violins whirring like a multitude of angel wings. Handel intends a lively, energetic solo, marking the tempo, Allegro, quick and lively. The soprano sings in a high range, suggesting the messenger angel hovering high overhead.
Then, the scene changes to the sound of angels coming to the shepherds. As if from far away, we hear a chorus, or a multitude of angels. The singing and accompaniment are in the high range without any bass voices, suggesting height and glory in the highest. With each “glory to God” the chorus grows louder as the angels come nearer to earth. The angels hover as the violins flutter. For the first time in the oratorio, trumpets join in, suggesting the entrance of royalty.
As “glory in the highest” is in the high range, so “peace on earth”, descends to a low range. Basses join in with their low voices as the violins hover high. The descent of the music line suggests the descent of peace to the people on earth. In contrast to the robust singing of “good will”, “peace on earth” is tranquil.
The voices of the people on earth join the angels in singing, “good will”. The song of the angels now becomes our song! Calvin Stapert has an interesting interpretation of the chorus’ singing “good will”:
It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to hear this as convivial greetings – ‘goodwill’ sounding like hearty shouts of ‘good cheer’ accompanied by the raising of glasses. This image becomes especially apparent when Handel completely isolates the word ‘goodwill’ and tosses it around from voice to voice.
In the third and final scene we hear the chorus ending with the sound of happy angels, lightly, airily, floating back to their heavenly realms.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.