What Is the Meaning of Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to His People on Earth?
Christmas is meant to be, first and foremost, a celebration of our Savior’s birth. So amid the busyness, we as believers need to take time to savor the amazing gift God gave us all those ages ago. The Nativity story in Luke 1-2 details the beginning of Jesus’ life here on Earth as Immanuel, or “God with us.”
The images in this story evoke a sense of wonder and awe in so many hearts. In fact, many music composers have been inspired to base chants, songs and carols on these verses. One such hymn is called “The Gloria” or “Glory to God.” It is sung in the Catholic Church, as well as other denominations, especially during Advent and Lent.
The beginning phrase, “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth,” was adapted from Luke 2:14, where a great crowd of angels cried out praise to God when Jesus was born. And in a season of long to-do lists and full schedules, this hymn and others like it remind us of what matters most all year round.
The Context and Meaning of 'Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to His People on Earth'
The words of this ancient Jewish hymn were based on a very familiar passage in the book of Luke. In the first part of Chapter 2, the author describes how events unfolded before and on the night that the Lord Jesus was born.
First, Luke explains that Caesar Augustus had called for a census to be taken of the Roman world, and how all the people followed the order to register in their towns. Then, the narrative shifts to one small family.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:4-5).
Then, in his straightforward style, Luke recounts the birth of Jesus.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. Meanwhile, up on a nearby hill, several shepherds were keeping their usual lonely vigil over their animals. But into the calm burst an angel, glowing with light. This stranger had an urgent message to deliver, directly to the shepherds.
“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
In Luke 2:13-14, Luke tells of the heavenly celebration that breaks out next.
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
As the angels spoke, their worship rang through the night sky and stirred the hearts of the shepherds.
What Christians Can Learn from the Shepherds' Response to the Angel's Words?
The shepherds were not expecting anything to disturb their usual routine. So naturally, they were astonished and frightened by the appearance of such a holy being. But the angel’s greeting in Luke 2:10 was meant to both reassure and rouse them.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
As believers, we can be inspired by the way the shepherds handled the incredible sights and sounds before them that night. Rather than running away, they stayed and gave respect to the angel and to the moment. And instead of dismissing the message, they pondered what the meaning of it might be.
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…’” (Luke 2:15).
Curious and excited, they took the step of acting on what they’d heard.
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby…” (Luke 2:16).
Then, after their visit to the manger, the shepherds became messengers themselves.
“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18).
Sometimes, we can become ‘relaxed’ in our faith, letting daily routines and plans fill our vision. God may choose to interrupt us in those times, to jolt us with a reminder that He is glorious, and His plan is being accomplished. If we choose to respond with the same obedience as the shepherds, we’ll feel the same joy. Our testimonies will more powerfully impact others, too.
Why We Should Hold Tight to This Bible Verse at Christmas and All Year
We often get distracted from God by “less-than best” things: activities that are fun, or even good to be involved in, but are not quite what He has in mind for us. It’s easy to blame this on the holidays, but the truth is it happens at other times as well.
Another way we lose focus on God is by paying more attention to what’s “urgent” and right in front of us than to the bigger picture. On any given day, our time and energy may go toward earthly things rather than eternal.
Reading Luke 2:14, and maybe even singing songs based on that verse, is a way to realign our vision. The words remind us of some basic truths:
The first section of this verse is all about God’s worthiness of the honor, respect and praise of all beings, whether angelic or earthly. As believers, we are to put God first in our hearts, and keep praise to Him on our lips.
Though their voices were loud that night, the angels really spoke words of comfort and grace over the shepherds. And as God’s people, we can rest in the knowledge that our Lord always wants to provide His peace, no matter what we face in life.
Keeping this verse tucked away in our hearts will make us more aware every day of how much we’ve been given and not to take our Lord for granted. He is not to be treated casually.
More About “The Gloria”
According to Hymnary.org, “Glory to God in the Highest” is an entry in 101 published hymnals. It is sung or spoken by the Catholic church and other denominations such as Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist.
For instance, an excerpt from an Episcopal service bulletin reads:
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God,
heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Other Songs Inspired By Luke 2:14
Here is a small sampling of other carols and songs that use Luke 2:14 in wonderful ways.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Charles Wesley) “Hark the Herald Angels Sing, glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled”
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Edmund H. Sears) “Peace on the earth goodwill toward men from heaven’s all gracious King”
The First Noel (Anonymous, French carol) “Noel, noel, noel, noel, born is the King of Israel”
Shepherd’s Watch (Michael Card) “And all at once the air filled with angels. Glory shone of holiness they smelled. Glory be to God in the highest and peace on earth to all those He loves”
A Prayer to Recognize God’s Glory
Lord God, we come before You, bowing down our hearts and laying our praises at Your feet. You are The Almighty, worthy of all we could ever give You, and more. How wonderful that as we lift You up, our King, we feel more joy, and our desire to worship grows!
Thank You, God, for all that You have done for us. This season brings to mind Your amazing plan to restore our relationship with You. Sending Jesus to serve and save us was the ultimate display of Your love. We are so grateful.
Please help us to keep the message of Luke 2:14 settled into our spirits, so we always have a sense of Your majesty and Your kindness. And give us the boldness to proclaim Your greatness to others as we go through our days.
We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The angels’ words in Luke 2:14 remind us that there is only One God, and He is to be revered. So as we read and sing about The Good News of Christmas, let’s join the celebration. And like the shepherds, let’s go out and share the wondrous message with others.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/melitas
Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby!
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
What were the prophecies of Jesus' birth in the Bible? How many references did the Old Testament make to the coming of a messiah to save the children of Abraham? See the numerous biblical prophecies of the birth of Jesus Christ and what we can learn from the Old Testament about His divinity in this collection of scripture quotes.