One of the Christmas hymns we will be singing this Sunday (December 11) is “Angel’s We Have Heard on High.” The text is from a French carol, believed to date back to the eighteenth century. The English translation was by James Chadwick, and adapted for use by Henri Hemy in Crown of Jesus Music in 1862 (hymnary.org). The original French carol was published in eight stanzas, though today the Trinity Hymnal’s version (#214) offers only three verses: “Angels we have heard on high,” “Shepherds, why this jubilee,” and “Come to Bethlehem, and see.” The tune is called GLORIA, itself a French melody.
The hymn is sung from the perspective of the shepherds on the hills outside of Bethlehem who were the recipients of the birth announcement of Jesus Christ the King. The first stanza marks the choral proclamation of Jesus’ birth by the band of angels and it imagines their song echoing off the mountains. Their cry of “Glory to God in the highest” (Gloria in excelsis deo) reverberates still today in the hearts of all who believe in Christ by grace.
The second stanza is a request to know from the shepherds the reason for their joy. The third stanza points them to the reason for their joy – Jesus Christ the newborn King! The song begs of us, who know Jesus personally as Lord and Savior, what reason we have for joy? Does our joy in Christ lead our hearts and souls to sing with gladness? Do we live out lives of adoration to Jesus, the Son of God incarnate who was crucified, died, and was buried; who is raised to new life and now sits at the right hand of God Almighty? Certainly to Him is due glory in the highest!