Glory to God in the Highest
Reflections on the Nativity Gospels (15)
When Uzziah, the tenth king of Judah, died in 739 B.C., the prophet Isaiah underwent an extraordinary experience in the Jerusalem Temple. He beheld the Lord God Almighty on His throne, so majestic that the entire temple was filled merely by the hem of His robe. The thresholds shook, and the house felled with the smoke of incense as the Seraphim, the highest rank of the heavenly host of angels cried out:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isaiah 6:3)
Thus was heard for the first time the awesome Trisagion or Trice Holy hymn, still recited and chanted so often by the faithful to this very day.
And behold, on the night when Jesus was born, a heavenly host appeared again, this time to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. We may recall that Matthew focused on Christ’s birth as heralded by a star to the Magi, who symbolized the nations that would join in His worshipping Him. Luke, on the other hand, chooses to tell us of the good news coming to shepherds watching their flocks at night, and how ‘an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them (Luke 2:9).’
There are good reasons for Luke’s chose emphasis. Not only was David himself, from whom the Messiah would descend, a shepherd, but these lowly herdsmen represent the same poor and despised for whom Jesus was especially called and who would have a special place in Luke’s heart.
In a way that should remind us of our Trisagion, the angel’s proclamation came in the form of a three-fold revelation of His holy mission as ‘Savior, Messiah and Lord’ (Luke 2:11). At this proclamation, an entire host of God’s divine messengers sing a hymn of praise. As Isaiah heard the Seraphim proclaim that the whole earth was filled with the glory of the Lord, so also the angels now proclaim that the three realms of creation are blessed by the advent of Christ.
Glory in the highest to God
on earth peace
and among men divine favor.