The Advent hymn Angels We Have Heard On High reflects on the angels present at the birth of Jesus Christ, not unlike another beloved classic, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
When Mary gave birth in a manger in Bethlehem, not many in the world noticed the baby boy’s arrival. But the angels sure did. And their response wasn’t quiet reflection, but exuberant proclamation and praise.
The theme of Angels We Have Heard On High, as the chorus testifies, is about giving glory to God because of the incarnation of Christ. The Word became flesh (John 1:14) and is worthy of praise.
Like the angels, and the shepherds, all people, in every era, in every nation, and in every language, are summoned to kneel in adoration of Christ, the newborn King.
Also see Advent Hymns: 151 Song for Christmas for more.
Lyrics to the Advent Hymn Angels We Have Heard on High
The chorus of this hymn invites worshipers to praise God in unison with the angels and shepherds. The refrain, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” means “glory to God in the highest” in Latin.
Whether worshipers speak in English, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or something else, all languages find their zenith when their speakers worship Jesus of Nazareth, who was born to a virgin in Bethlehem long ago.
|1 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,
gloria in excelsis Deo.
|2 Shepherds, why this jubilee?|
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heav’nly song? [Refrain]
|3 Come to Bethlehem and see|
him whose birth the angels sing;
come, adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the newborn King. [Refrain]
Michael Card writes, “All we could ever imagine, could ever hope for, He is… He is the Prince of Peace whose first coming has already transformed society but whose second coming will forever establish justice and righteousness.”
Card continues: “All this, and infinitely more, alive in an impoverished baby in a barn. That is what Christmas means – to find in a place where you would least expect to find anything you want, everything you could ever want.”
Also see O Come O Come Emmanuel for more.
Story of Angels We Have Heard on High
It’s a simply beautiful image: the shepherds in a great field, staring up in wonder at a sky full of the heavenly hosts, singing out their praise and joy, the echoes of their song of reverberating off the mountains to add to the cacophony.
It isn’t hard to imagine the shepherds’ response. This group of young boys must have looked at each other wide-eyed, then whooped and cheered and run as fast as they could into the village, a stampede of sheep following them.
Giddy with excitement and out of breath, did they burst into the stable and crowd around the manger? Or did they stop at the stable door, suddenly shy and overwhelmed, and peek in at the couple holding a tiny baby? Did they fully understand what they were witnessing? Do we even fully understand what they were witnessing?
This hymn invites us to “Come to Bethlehem and see.” Today, we go to Bethlehem. We peak through the stable doors, and we kneel in amazement before the Christ child, our ears still ringing from the angels’ song.
More so than the shepherds, we are able to see who this child is, because we know the Gospel story. We know that the angels would come again, this time to announce that Christ was not where the women looked for Him, but that He had risen. It isn’t hard to imagine that a “Gloria” would have been on those angels’ lips as well. (From hymnary.org)
Also see O Little Town of Bethlehem for more.
Bible verses related to the hymn for Advent
- Psalm 95:6, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
- Isaiah 55:12, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
- Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
- Luke 2:7, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
- John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
- John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
- Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”
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