An angel announced Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem to shepherds that first Christmas day. Suddenly, a choir of angels was praising God, giving him honor for this event, saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on who his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). This glory is directly related to God’s grace that appeared in Jesus to save us from our grave situation.
Though the text has the angels “saying,” there must have been some tune or litany to their praise. The angels sang at creation (Job 38:7) and will sing to Christ in his future glory (Rev. 5:8-10). Customarily, when a Jewish boy was born, the local musicians congregated at the house to greet him with simple song. Born away from loved ones, Mary’s boy child was not welcomed at Bethlehem’s cattle shed or sung to by earthly singers. But, heaven’s minstrelsy did. Earth is now invited to join in their glorious carol of Christmas praise. All glory must go to God alone in the most exalted of ways. This glory can only be celebrated meaningfully by those on whom God’s grace or favor rests, who see in the Christ child their only means of peace with God.
A major task of angels is to render continuous worship to God who is “in the highest heaven” and from whom all blessings flow. Their praise, as ours should be, is both for who God is and what he has done. In this case, as Fanny Crosby the blind hymnist put it, “To God be the glory great things he has done; so loved he the world that he gave us his Son.” The praise is specifically for God’s grace of salvation in Jesus Christ, “who yielded his life an atonement for sin and opened the Lifegate that all may go in!” The Lord had come as our Savior to make peace, hence this song of salvation brings joy to the earth. Usually one or two angels attend or announce an event. Here, a multitude of heavenly hosts, literally, “the armies of heaven” makes an anthem of praise that focuses on God’s glory (Latin, Gloria)–a theme that has evoked wonder and inspired many songwriters through the centuries.
God’s glory, often referred to as shekinah glory, denotes the majesty of his presence. God will not share his glory with another, nor can humans see it and live. Yet, God chose to reveal his divine radiance, moral splendor, and greatness in Christ. At a deeper level, Jesus’ nature, miracles, and saving acts display not only God’s, but Jesus’ unique glory, which he shared with God his Father before creation. In short, God’s divine presence is made visible to our human understanding in Christ’s person. At his transfiguration, Peter and John glimpsed this glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace (charis, loving-kindness that softens the glare) and truth (alethea, the genuine reality). It took them time to realize that in Jesus was the indwelling glory of God. Then they invite us to see this gracious truth through eyes of faith (1 Pet. 1:16; Jn. 1:14). The wonder of all wonders is that we as his followers are also called to partake in and share his glory (Jn. 17:22).
Christ is indeed the image (eikon) of the invisible God, the exhibition of God’s glory. But today, not everyone readily sees this. Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers from this gospel. We must pray that God, who at creation dispelled darkness by commanding the light to shine, will cause the light of his glory to shine in hearts to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-6). Jesus’ final glory is yet to be revealed at his Second Coming. Till then, by the power of his Spirit at work in us, may others sense Christ in us, the hope of glory! Let’s celebrate Christ, not just Christmas, and sing of his love forever, showing forth this season the praise of God’s glorious grace.