It’s hard to go anywhere this time of the year without hearing Christmas music. They really help set the mood for the holidays, which I love. The melodies of many of the traditional Christmas carols are fixed in our minds because we’ve heard them for years and years. But often the words are not. Who can remember the 3rd verse of “Silent Night,” for example?

The lyrics of the really good Christmas carols have a relationship component to them worth considering this time of year. I’m going to talk about one of these carols in today’s episode.

But before we get into all this, here’s a word from my favorite Christmas Carol, our executive producer, Carol Steward.

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Angels We Have Heard on High

I have been hearing “Angels We Have Heard on High” as a Christmas Carol ever since I was a kid. I bet the same is true for you, too. It is an easily recognizable tune, mainly because of its chorus, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” which is Latin for Glory to God in the Highest.

Because the melody is so familiar and catchy, the lyrics, except for the first few lines, are something I’ve never thought much about. Until just recently. This “Angels We Have Heard on High” Christmas Carol has an interesting history, going back to the second century, and an even more interesting meaning for celebrating the Christmas season here in 2022.

I’ll get into all this in just a moment, but first I’ll play the melody and recite the lyrics. Try to focus on the words and their meaning.

[Play the melody of “Angels We Have Heard on High”]

Lyrics to “Angels We Have Heard on High”

[Verse 1]
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains

Gloria In Excelsis Deo
Gloria In Excelsis Deo

[Verse 2]
Shepherds why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say what may the tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria In Excelsis Deo
Gloria In Excelsis Deo

[Verse 3]
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the newborn King

Gloria In Excelsis Deo
Gloria In Excelsis Deo

[Verse 4]
See within in a manger laid
Jesus Lord of heav'n and earth
Mary, Joseph lend your aid
With us sing our Savior's birth

The back story to this Christmas Carol

“Angels We Have Heard On High,” is a traditional French Christmas carol, previously known as “The Angels in Our Countryside.” It tells the story of angels announcing to local shepherds the good news of the birth of Jesus.

Though the source of the song is unknown, it is believed to have originated in 18th-century France. The song was first translated into English in 1860 by James Chadwick, a Roman Catholic bishop.

Just as the origin of the words to this French song is unknown, so also is the melody. Since it was common for lyrics to be written for existing tunes, it is possible that the melody is even older than the words.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

The refrain in this Christmas carol, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” (Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest”) has an interesting background. The phrase is first found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verse 14, when a vast host of angels suddenly appear to the shepherds, praising God.

Centuries ago in the hills of southern France, tradition has it that shepherds had a Christmas Eve custom of calling to one another, each from their own hillside, singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” Verses 1 and 2 in Angels We Have Heard on High” reference this when they speak of the “mountains” (i.e., the shepherds on the mountains) replying to the angels in joyous heavenly song.

The phrase “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” played an important part in worship at church masses dating back to 130 A.D. During this time period, one of the early Roman Catholic popes, Pope Telesphorus, issued a decree that on Christmas Day all churches should have special evening services.

He also ordered that at these masses, after the reading of certain Scripture or the conclusion of specific prayers, the congregation should always sing the words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” Historical church documents reveal that monks carried this executive order throughout the land and that by the third century it was a practice used by most churches at Christmas services.


So, what does “Angels We Have Heard of High” mean for you?

This Christmas carol stands in sharp contrast to all the things we add to the original meaning of Christmas. The presents, the activities, the gathering of families together. All these are fine, but they have nothing to do with Jesus is the reason for the season.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” is largely a song to celebrate the invitation God extends to all of us, you and me included, to come and see who Jesus is.
It’s to celebrate the generous love of God to give us this greatest gift ever.

It’s also an encouragement to accept this wonderful invitation. As the angels said to the shepherds, just come and see. Come and see.

And that’s what “Angels We Have Heard on High” means for us this Christmas season in 2022 and every year.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

A Christmas carol like “Angels We Have Heard on High” invites you and me into a relationship with Jesus, just as it did for the shepherds in the song. It’s an invitation for us to either accept or reject.

Relationship question of the month for December

What joyful memory of Christmas do you have? What is a tradition or event stands out for you when you think about this holiday?

Just go to to record your answer using your phone or computer. With your answer, please include your name and where you’re from. It’s that simple. If you’d rather give a written answer, just enter it in the Leave a Comment box at the bottom of the show notes.

I’ll need your response by 5 pm Central time on December 12, 2022. Again, head over to and leave a message.

I’ll pick several responses to air on our episode before Christmas.


In closing, I encourage you can take a few minutes to look past the distractions that seep into the Christmas season. I hope you take to reflect on its real meaning so that you can give glory to God in the highest as the shepherds on those French hillsides did so many years ago.

I so often close each episode by encouraging you to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet and to spark some joy for them. But for this month, I want to encourage you to be on the lookout for the sunshine God is shining into your life. Expect true Christmas joy to show up on your relational doorstep to surprise you by filling your heart.

And I’ll end with one last round of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!
Other episodes or resources related to today’s show

133: Relationships – The Back Story to the Christmas Story
021: The Most Important Relationship of All

Last week’s episode

186: Thankful for Life After Death

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