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  • Writer's pictureKim Arnold

The First Song of Christmas

One of the reasons I love Christmas is because I get to sing some of my favorite hymns. The triumphant “Joy to the World,” where we praise Jesus’ coming to earth as a tiny baby, evokes feelings of love and comfort. I have such a sense of peace while singing Franz Gruber’s “Silent Night,” especially when I’m around my closest friends and family. And a carol that ranks high on my list is “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Although it is obscure and not sung in Baptist churches very often, I love the simplicity of the poem and the image it creates of a peaceful winter’s night.

This year, our family is using the Advent devotional from So We Speak. We gather with a few friends once a week to read Scripture, share a devotional, pray, and sing a hymn. As with most Advent devotionals, we read about Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1, as well as Luke 1 and 2. Part of the excitement of Jesus’ birth is the understanding and revelation of the term “heavenly host.” Before jumping into the full meaning of this term, let’s remember the sequence of events that happened when Jesus was born. First, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). Then, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary was going to give birth to a son who would be named Immanuel (Matthew 1:18-25). After Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds near Bethlehem and told them about the birth of their Messiah (Luke 2:8-12).

Now, we come to the term “heavenly host.” Luke 2:13 tells us, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God.” Meyers’ New Testament Commentary defines these angels as the host of angels that surround God’s throne. I am in awe just thinking about that scene! Shepherds were in a field, doing their job (the same as every other day), when not only one angel, but the host of angels that surrounded God’s throne appeared to them.

Since we know the scene, now let us read the words of the first Christmas hymn ever sung:

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14).

Can you imagine the multitude of angels that worship God continuously now singing where these lowly shepherds could hear them? What a sight! Meyers says that the angels were worshiping the Messiah God glorified in heaven and on earth through the birth of Jesus. I imagine the shepherds were overwhelmed by hearing the heavenly host roar with praise to God.

The power of this narrative has so many layers. But there is one thing I want us to focus on and remember during this season. God sent his heavenly host to the lowly, hard-working shepherds going about their everyday calling. In his Concise Commentary, Matthew Henry says, “We are not out of the way of Divine visits, when we are employed in an honest calling, and abide with God in it. Let God have the honor of this work; Glory to God in the highest.”

What is the everyday calling God has placed on your life? Outside of your family, who is God sending you to help? Are you supposed to take a meal to a family in need? Is God asking you to volunteer in a ministry at church? Is God asking you to give sacrificially to further his kingdom?

I challenge each of us to lean hard into God’s calling on our lives, especially as we celebrate Christmas. Allow God to lead you where he wants you this season. Abide in Him and work in your calling daily. Then, join with the heavenly host in singing, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Kim has been married to her college sweetheart, Jason, for 24 years and they have one son who is a high school senior. Most recently, Kim completed her Ph.D in Church Music and Worship from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has presented at Evangelical Theological Society and The Society of Christian Scholarship in Music, and her works have appeared in The Hymn, Artistic Theologian, and Baptist History and Heritage Journal.


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