This month’s article will be an experimental first in a series to explore different parts of our liturgy. So often we sing the songs, pray the prayers, and read the responses without considering why these elements exist in the first place. I hope that by reflecting on these parts of the service, we might gain a richer understanding of the way we worship, leading to a more meaningful participation on Sunday morning.
It’s December and that means Christmas is here!! (Oh wait, I mean Advent is here!!) In this month’s newsletter we’ll turn our attention to the Hymn of Praise – “Gloria in Excelsis”.
During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we will sing Gloria in Excelsis. This title is Latin for the first line of the angelic hymn: “Glory to God in the Highest.” This is the song the angels sang on the night of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14). This hymn of praise finds itself situated near the beginning of the worship service following Confession and Absolution. With these words, we thank God for His gift of forgiveness as we address this hymn to all three persons of the Trinity. We recall with the same words as the angels at Christmas, that God’s presence now dwells among us even as we have gathered for worship. He is present with us in His Word and Sacraments.
It is especially fitting to sing this hymn at Advent and Christmastime to anchor our worship in something greater than commercial excitement and Santa Claus. At this and anytime, it makes Christmas part of our everyday life, not just a remote island of celebration in Winter. Martin Luther said of this hymn that it “did not grow, nor was it made on earth, but it came down from heaven.” Whenever we sing this song, we are joining in with the angels as they praise and give glory to God in the Highest.
In stark contrast to the culture-at-large, this hymn insists on the biblical truth and mystery that God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gives us the greatest gift of Himself. The gift of forgiveness and salvation through Christ’s birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection does not need purchased or stressed over by us. It is instead, received in humble joy by us sinners, who need such a gift, but could never provide it for ourselves!
Whenever we sing this hymn, consider the great blessing it is that God had us in mind when He came down from heaven and was born of the Virgin Mary. In response to God’s mercy toward us, we thank Him and sing “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth!”
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Jeff Burgess
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
A Congregation of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod