Advent 2017 – Part 3 – “The Gloria in excelsis Deo”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,e 

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

                          – Luke 2:23-24

The third song that we find in Luke’s gospel was sung by innumerable angelic beings in response to the message of the angel which had been delivered to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. Known throughout much of church history as the Gloria in excelsis Deo, the song, as well as the circumstances in which it was first sung, serve to announce the glorious work of God on behalf of mankind. Within the wider context of the passage, there is a dramatic contrast which is drawn between this proclamation of good news  to the people of God and the decree of Caesar  which forced his subjects to register for the purpose of being taxed by the empire (2:1)

The account of the angelic visitation begins by describing the work of shepherds who were dwelling in the fields within the region. Their immediate response to the appearance of the angel was the same as that of both Mary and Zechariah who were also filled with fear. The angel immediately sought to calm their hearts, exhorting them not to be afraid. He then spoke to them of the “good news” which would be to all of the people in fulfillment of the expectations of Isaiah 40:9-11. In line with the expectation of Micah 5:2, a child had been born in the city of David who would be the Savior of His people. This child is the Christ (Messiah) who would rule with the power and authority of Yahweh Himself, for He would be referred to as Lord. The sign for the truth of these claims would be that, upon finding the location of the child’s family, they would see the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.

It was at this moment, following this proclamation of good news, that the heavens appeared to burst open. There were now a multitude of the angels of heaven who praised God. The scene is reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in which the angelic beings’ song regarding the holiness of God so overwhelmed the prophet that he feared he would be destroyed because of his sin. The message of the angels to the shepherds, however, was one of hope for sinful mankind in light of all that God was accomplishing on their behalf. In Psalm 148:1-2, the psalmist calls out, Praise the LordPraise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!” In fulfillment of these words, this multitude glorified God for the peace which men would experience because of the person and work of the Messiah. All of this God had accomplished because He was well-pleased or favorably disposed towards mankind. Although these shepherds were sinful men, they were the first recipients of the “good news” of God’s favor which would be shown towards His people.

The vision of God’s glory which the shepherds had seen was apt imagery for what God had accomplished in the birth of Christ. The glory of God which mankind had been separated from because of their sin was beginning to be revealed in the world. The shepherds found things in Bethlehem just as the angel had said and as they left the scene, they glorified and praised God just as the angels had done. Psalm 148 concludes with the people of God exhorted to Him praise just as the angels had been, Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children; Let them praise the name of the Lordfor his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.” In the angels and shepherds of Luke 2 we see a beautiful fulfillment of this psalm. The praises of God which the heavenly hosts offer to Him can now be joined by the praises of God’s people because of the work of the Messiah to bring peace and redemption to mankind. 

Join us this Sunday as we come together to declare His praises and celebrate the wonderful gift of Christ!

Soli Deo Gloria.

-Thomas