A “mondegreen” is a misunderstood word or phrase usually because it’s in a song lyric that is misunderstood. In Christmas carols, many mondegreens come from the fact that the Old English lyrics are sometimes up to 200 years old and simply aren’t the way Americans talk today. One of my favorite mondegreens comes from I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day where people say “the bell freeze up all Christians dumb” instead of “the belfries of all Christendom”!
If this happens to 200-year-old songs written in English, can you imagine what happens to a song that is 1700 years old and was originally written in Latin?! I’m talking about the chorus from Angels We Have Heard On High which simply says, “Gloria in excelsis Deo.”
That Latin phrase means Glory to God in the highest! The idea is that our praise of God is both excellent and increasing in its level of adoration. The Latin phrase is shorthand for a doxology that is traced back to 300 AD.
The angels aren’t the subject of this carol, but the focal point is to Whom their song is being raised—“Come to Bethlehem and see Him Whose birth the angels sing; come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”
The idea of gloria in excelsis is to keep making our praise bigger and more magnificent. We are to MAGNIFY what God has done for us through the advent of Jesus.
In Hebrew, the word gadal is usually translated as “magnify” or “glorify” in English, and it means something that is growing and becoming more powerful. David uses gadal as he not only praises God from deep within his soul but encourages others to join in his song (Psalm 34:1-3).
In Greek, the word megalynō is also translated “magnify,” and means to make something great, make it obvious, declare it to be great, celebrate it. Mary’s song called The Magnificat begins with this word (Luke 1:46).
Just like a magnifying glass doesn’t make an object bigger, it just helps us see it better. So, too, our praise and adoration don’t make God bigger, it just helps others see Him better.
So I have a question to ask you—which I’ve already been asking myself—
One thing that isn’t missing is singing. Every one of the stanzas ends with a phrase about the angels singing. But can you spot what IS missing? I didn’t see it at first until I read this quote from respected music professor Dr. C. Michael Hawn: “This may be the only commonly sung Christmas carol in our hymnals that does not mention the birth of Christ!”
This carol just sort of assumes that we know why the angels are singing. But do we know?
The Bible tells us that the angels were singing at Creation and that they are still singing in Heaven for all of eternity (Job 38:4-7; Revelation 5:9-13; 7:9-12; 15:2-4). Then we have this glimpse of the angels singing when Jesus was incarnated as a human baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14). Where did they get their song and their inspiration to sing it?
Their song comes from the Choir Leader who is the King of kings. Jesus is singing in Heaven, before the throne of His Father, about the salvation that He brought to mankind through His incarnation, sinless life, death on Calvary, and resurrection from the grave (see Hebrews 2:9-12).
The song that Jesus sings tells the story of how He came to earth just like us—made a little lower than the angels—so that He might taste sin and death and conquer them for us. Now as our victorious Savior, He is not ashamed to call those who put their faith in Him His brothers and sisters.
Now perhaps you see why angels are also singing all the time!
Even today there is a lot of singing around the Christmas season, but there is something missing in most of the songs: a focus on what Christmas really means. The world’s songs are about trees, and gifts, and Santa, and falling in love, but it’s a song that is out of tune with the angelic song.
As Christians, we have a choice we can look around at this out-of-tune singing and lament what’s happening in our world, we can join in these meaningless songs, or we can look up at our Savior and sing the song He is singing.
Christian, will you join with the angelic choir to let the world hear the unmistakable love song that Jesus is still singing today?
Join me on Sunday as we continue our look at the fascinating messages in the old familiar Christmas carols.
All of these lies are designed to discourage you, but always remember this—they are all lies! David said to God, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book. My enemies will retreat when I call to You for help. This I know: God is on my side!” (Psalm 56:8-9)
A great example of a man who prayed long and hard—and fought off the things that might discourage him to give up—was Daniel.
Daniel had previously been given insight from God to interpret dreams, visions, and other messages from heaven, but on one particular instance, he was stuck. God gave Daniel a vision, but not the meaning of that vision.
Daniel began to do two things in the physical realm that results in two unseen spiritual victories taking place.
First, Daniel prayed. Daniel not only prayed boldly, but he also prayed long. Although Daniel prayed for 21 days, when an angel arrived with God’s answer, the angel said, “From the moment you decided to humble yourself to receive understanding, your request was heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.”
Second, Daniel fasted. The word fast literally means “to cover the mouth.” In Daniel’s case, we know that for 21 days he abstained from meat and wine. But he also abstained from “choice food” (NIV). What are those? I think these might be our “comfort foods.” Foods we go to to help relieve stress. Foods that become substitute sources of help, instead of humbling ourselves to go to God and ask for wisdom.
As Daniel was praying and fasting, it appeared that nothing was happening. But there were actually two victories won out of human sight.
First, a spiritual battle was won. The angel sent to Daniel was locked in combat with a demon for 21 days before he broke free to come to Daniel. We are still involved in that kind of spiritual warfare today (see Ephesians 6:12-18).
Second, Daniel was being refined and strengthened. When the angel arrived, he called Daniel “highly esteemed.” Don’t miss this—this greeting is the same Hebrew word used for what Daniel fasted (“choice food”). In other words, the temporary thing Daniel fasted turned into something of invaluable strength.
What if Daniel had stopped praying after 2 days? 10 days? 20 days?
Daniel—and you and I—may not see with our natural eyes the victories that are being won, but make no mistake about it: Our fasting and praying IS doing something amazing.
Your prayers are being heard. Spiritual battles are being won. You are being refined. God IS going to accomplish something great. God IS being glorified. Don’t stop praying and fasting until God comes through!
Join me this Sunday as we conclude on series looking at the bold pray-ers in the Bible.
Nowhere else do we see such a concentration of angels as during Christ’s time on earth, and especially at His birth. In the Old Testament prior to Christ’s birth, and in the New Testament following Christ’s ascension, we don’t see as many angels clustered together on Earth—
Charles Wesley wrote a Christmas carol called Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. In the first stanza, we’re invited to “join the triumph in the skies.” But how can someone sing a song grand enough, majestic enough, or worthy enough to honor Almighty God?! That would be like me being asked to compose a song or play something on the piano to honor Mozart—how could I play anything worthy of his musical talent?
In a similar way, when the Israelites thought about coming into God’s presence, they were gripped with knee-knocking, gut-churning fear (Exodus 19:16-19; 20:18-19)!
But notice that the angels didn’t sing, “God is born in Bethlehem.” They sang, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Christ: the Messiah; the One who sets things right. No wonder this is such good news of great joy that brings peace and God’s favor (Luke 2:10, 14).
The simple fact is that we couldn’t approach God and join in their angelic song. Instead, Jesus approached us as our Messiah, our Deliverer. How could this happen? Wesley’s carol reminds us that Jesus came so that God and sinners are reconciled!
The First Advent is God approaching us. If we allow Jesus to reconcile us to our Holy Heavenly Father, then we have no fear of Christ’s Second Advent. His Second Advent will be attended to by angels just like His First Advent (Matthew 25:31-32; Mark 8:38; Jude 1:14-15). Those who haven’t had their sins forgiven will hear a song that is soul-crushing to them, while those who have accepted the reconciling work of Jesus will join with the angelic host in a victorious song bringing glory to God forever and ever (Revelation 14:9-11; 15:1-4).
We don’t have to wait until we get to Heaven to join the triumph of the skies. We can join the angelic choir right now in singing our praise to God today. And every day!
Join me this Sunday as we continue to look at the fantastic messages in our Christmas carols.