Echoing the Joyous Strain

This is an excerpt from “12 Days of Christmas Carols,” a devotional which unpacks lines of familiar Christmas carols you’ve sung for years but perhaps have never really thought about.

The song, “Angels We Have Heard on High” is one of the most-played and most-loved Christmas carols in the world. The Latin chorus (which, as a kid, I always tried to sing in one long, drawn out breath), “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” captures the angels’ words to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Every December, this hymn is blasted through loudspeakers at malls all around the country, which is rather remarkable if you think about it. “Glory to God in the highest!” is the ever-present soundtrack of the season, haunting our frenzied consumerism with the subtle reminder that this holiday is not, ultimately, about us.

The line in the first verse, “The mountains in reply / echoing the joyous strain” confront us with the inescapable nature of Christmas. The angels’ message to the shepherds didn’t stop with them; it expanded in a joyous, ever-increasing song that echoes down to this day.

Christmas is the first step in God’s plan to fulfill the prophet Habbakuk’s vision: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” At Christmas, we see the first ripple in this universal mission, as a tiny baby quietly enters history. But the angels’ song assures us that Christmas doesn’t stay small. The tide is coming in, glory is rising in this darkened world, and one day all will see that this is the King of all the earth. Every knee will bow– some gladly, some grudgingly– and every tongue will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, the mountains and hills will burst into singing, the joyous strain will echo through all creation, and all shall be well.

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