The song of the angels recorded in Luke 2 makes it into a majority of our Christmas carols. As Luke records it:
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 among those with whom he is pleased!” (v13-14).
This year as I have sung those words (Glory to God) I have wondered again and again ‘do I really know what they mean?’ I have a vague idea that we are praising God with these words (at least when sung from our hearts as well as our lips). But what does the word ‘glory’ mean?
If you’re anything like me you’ll have found yourself, at some point, sitting listening to a preacher begin his sermon with a dictionary definition of an important word in his text. To be honest this is more than a little boring, and rarely helpful. Unfortunately, it was no different as I turned to Greek dictionaries and other commentaries. Glory means to give honour, ascribe praise, worship and dignity. Although this is what I kind of thought already, it did help clarify it a little in my mind. To sing ‘glory to God’ is to acknowledge we must give him honour, praise, worship and dignity. There was a helpful nuance identified for me however. Namely the Greek word (doxa) derives from a word meaning opinion.
Therefore, to sing ‘glory to God’ is not just to give honour, praise and worship, but to confess this is my opinion of God. This is what the heavenly multitude did that evening near Bethlehem as they appeared to the shepherds. They confessed that their opinion of God was one of honour, praise and dignity. Why? Because the Saviour, Jesus Christ, had been born bring peace to those with whom God is pleased!
This context, Luke 2, is important for us to note because this is what we reflect as we sing these words in Christmas carols. We reflect the wonder, adoration and love which is evoked by the reality that God has come to earth, being born of a virgin and taking on flesh. This is captured well by the commentator David Gooding. He writes
The marvellously rich imagery of the story appeals to some of the profoundest feelings in the human heart…the angel choir breaking into the darkness of earth’s night to herald the long-awaited sunrise
What are we doing (or should be doing) as we sing ‘glory to God’? We too are (should be) heralding our high opinion of God – to him, to ourselves and to others.
Are you singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo today?