Behind the Carols: Angels We Have Heard on High

Gloooooo-ooo-ooo-ria! “Angels We Have Heard on High” This French hymn translated by John Chadwick into English is one of the greatest Christmas anthems that we have in the Church.

But the French version is slightly different, it’s slightly more playful. The French version is loosely translated to “Angels in our Countryside,” and tends to bring across the sense of teasing, almost flirtatious angels, daring the shepherds to see what and Who is born in Bethlehem that night. More like a choir of Sirens leading Shepherds away from their posts than a news report from CNN – the French version has a slightly…well…more French character. It coquettes the Shepherds to come and see the Good News born that day.

Sometimes we forget this sense of the Gospel in the Church – the one that beckons, flirts, winks, and smiles. The Gospel that titillates and tantalizes is one that gets lost, perhaps especially in our Lutheran churches. But in a day and age where Christianity has lost much of the cultural foothold it once held, we would be good to remember this sense of it. The Gospel is meant not only to announce, but to draw people in.

Just like the song itself, the Gospel causes everyone in the room want to join in the chorus – “Gloooo—oooo–oooo–oooo—ria, in excelsis Deo!” It invites us with the promise of joy and singing at the top of our lungs. So let us take the lead of some winking Frenchified angels in the countryside and approach the world with the promise of a Gospel that could be greater than the promise of any flirt on this earth, because it is coming from the Bridegroom of the Church born in Bethlehem.


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