Summary: An in-depth look at the angels who proclaimed Christ’s birth.
The Songs of Christmas: Gloria
As we approach this third message in our series of “songs” from Luke’s gospel, I must begin today by confessing some of the discoveries made in preparation for today. A lot of my preconceived notions have been shaken, and my opinions have had to take a back seat to the truths of Scripture. As we examine this passage together today, I hope that you will consider these things with me. Together, may we learn more about God as we study the message of the angels.
My first discovery was that the angels do not sing. Those of you holding a Good News or Living Bible today will be the first to contradict me on this matter. I listened with fascination to Dr. David Jeremiah on Thursday morning as I drove to school, and I found out in my own study that he is right! Everywhere in the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible, the angels may worship God or praise God or serve God, but nowhere in the Bible do the original languages say that the angels sing. What our modern translators have done is to interpret Scripture rather than simply translate it. I hope your faith is not crushed by this discovery.
The second discovery falls in line with “the glory of the Lord” mentioned in verse nine. This reference is important as well. The glory of the Lord in Scripture represented the presence of God prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit. It rested on Mt.Sinai while Moses received the Ten Commandments. It came down on the tabernacle. The glory of the Lord was so great in Second Chronicles that the priests in Solomon’s temple could not stand up. Something terrible happened later in Israel’s history, though. Ezekiel 10:18-19 tells us of the departure of God’s glory from the temple. It has never returned. Only in moments like the appearance of the angels that first Christmas night has God’s glory been seen by human eyes since that time. The glory will not return permanently to the earth until the new Jerusalem descends from heaven at the end of the age.
I suppose the most interesting discovery came as I read a discussion on angels in the Holman Bible Dictionary. Basically, it said that there are three defined classes of angels in Scripture. The first are the seraphim, whose name literally means “flaming ones.” They are the ones who covered God’s glory in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6. The second are the cherubim. We see them as the guardians of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. They are also the winged figures set on top of the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25. The Angel of the Lord who appeared to Mary in Luke 1 was called Gabriel, whose name means, “the warrior of God.” Many scholars think that this angel was the same one who appeared to the shepherds. If this was the case, I have a hard time believing that “the warrior of God” was a blonde-haired girl wearing white satin with giant wings like a dove. More likely, the angel was wearing body armor and carrying a flaming sword. Furthermore, if he had the glory of the Lord around him, I can easily see why the shepherds were so afraid.
When we come to the issue of the heavenly host, then, our perception is also changed. Instead of a thousand white robes and halos, picture a full army dressed for combat. They are grouped into calvary and infantry units, covering the hillside nearby. This song, then, is their victory chant. If they spoke in Hebrew for the shepherds to hear, they probably shouted:
La’elohim maroam chavoad! Wuh-shalom barrets, la-anashim caphets!
Hallelu-Yah! which translated means:
“Praise the LORD! Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, God’s kindness to men. Praise the LORD!”
Now that all our mental pictures of Christmas have been sufficiently shot down this morning, let’s pause and consider the real gist of the message: the words of the angels. These three phrases represent a beautiful exclamation of praise and worship, along with powerful proclamation of the truth of God’s nature and plan. We would do well to take heed to the angels’ words and apply them to our lives today.
The first phrase, “Glory to God in the highest,” is a clear statement of praise. The word for glory is chavoad in Hebrew, or doxa in Greek. Either way, the meaning is “to draw attention to, to assign value to.” When the angels said, “Glory to God,” they were proclaiming that God is worthy of notice by the world. 2 Corinthians 8:9 builds the reason for this proclamation when it says, “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.” We are compelled to give glory to God today for His unspeakable gift.