A Shepherd’s Perspective
By Patrick G Howard
We have all heard the wonderful story hundreds of times, but it never gets old. We read it in our bible. We hear it recited in church. We performed it in our Christmas pageant when we were kids. We even hear it when we watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
The story I’m talking about is the miraculous birth of Jesus.
And while you may not think about it, you hear the story told every time you listen to one of the most classic of Christmas canticles – “Angels, We Have Heard on High.”
This month, I want to use this song to help us remember our focus. And while we will focus on Luke 2:14, I think it is helpful to place it into context. Let’s start with the birth of Jesus and read verses six through fourteen. Before we do, let me paint a picture for you. I want you to imagine that you are a shepherd. You are in a field near Bethlehem. It’s a normal, peaceful night. The stars are brilliant against a dark sky. The only sound you hear are from the sheep in your flock. Are you there? Good. Then, let’s read verses six through fourteen.
(6) And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. (7) She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
(8) That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. (9) Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Do not be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. (11) The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
(13) Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying,
(14) “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
What do you think? Were you startled when the angel appeared out of nowhere? What did you hear? If you’re like me, “Angels, We Have Heard on High” perfectly describes what the shepherds must have experienced that night. We have listened to and sung that song countless times, but I want you to just listen to the words of the first verse right now.
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains; and the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains. Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Imagine, if you will, an angel appears and gives you the wonderful news of the birth of our Savior. Then, he begins singing, with the angels and archangels and all of Heaven’s armies, these words – “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” And as their Holy chorus begins to die down, the mountains reply as though they were an antiphonal choir – “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”
Gloria in excelsis Deo! It’s a simple Latin phrase, meaning, “Glory to God in the Highest!” Can’t you imagine what a marvelous concert that must have been that night?
Granted, the angels and mountains probably didn’t sing in Latin. It was possibly Hebrew, Arabic or Greek, but most likely Aramaic. It doesn’t really matter what language they spoke, because the message was universal and for the whole world to hear – Our Savior was born!
With that in mind, here is my challenge to you. This Christmas season, whenever you hear this wonderful song, focus on Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” And whenever you are tempted to tell somebody to have a Merry Christmas, tell them this story instead. Tell them the story of the shepherds in their field, and the night the angels and mountains sang.