Angels We Have Heard on High is completely anonymous. In fact, it has always been printed with no known authorship, either for lyrics or music. And yet the chorus is perhaps the most recognizable of any we traditionally sing during the Christmas season:
“Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”
Though we don’t know the author of this carol, we do know it originated in France. As the story goes, shepherds in southern France had a tradition many years ago of calling to one another the words of that chorus, each from the hillside they happened to be on. Beyond that, though, the carol was sung in England by the first part of the 19th century.
The lyrics are simple and straightforward, not only telling the story of Jesus’ birth, but also exhorting worship to Him. One line in particular issues this exhortation:
“Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the new born king!”
Indeed, isn’t this really the same exhortation that goes out to the people of God, and from the people of God, with our whole lives? Aren’t we reminding one another and proclaiming to the world that there is a King, and that the proper response to a King is to worship?
That call is really synonymous with the very title we see for Jesus in those simple words:
That title is a familiar one for us today; in fact, it was the center piece of the very first Christian confession. But perhaps because it is so common to us that we tend to lose some of the significance associated with it. When the first Christians proclaimed that Jesus Christ is Lord, it was not just a statement of belief; it was a statement of subversion. The confession that linked the Roman empire together in the first century was “Caesar is Lord.” And then here came these Christians, claiming a higher allegiance than to their emperor.
So we echo their first confession. And when we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we are acknowledging there is no part of creation, much less our own lives, over which Jesus does not lay claim. That includes not only our actions, but also our emotions. When Christians remember this truth, that Jesus is Lord, it means that we are willingly acknowledging the reign of Jesus over our whole selves.
There is great significance here. To come adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the new born king, we are acknowledging His authority. As such, Jesus can set whatever expectations He wants. He is the rightful King of the universe, the very Word of God, and the Creator of all things. Whether we recognize His authority or not really makes no difference; His authority over the world, and we who inhabit it, is an objective truth. So when Jesus comes to His followers and makes demands of an extreme nature, He has every right to do so.
As Lord, Jesus has the authority to tell us to leave everything behind and follow Him. He has the authority to demand that we sell everything and come with Him. He has the authority to tell us not to seek revenge but instead to forgive and pray for our enemies. He has the ultimate right to command.
But Jesus is not a naive leader; He is not an out of touch boss; He is not an aloof dignitary. Gloriously, Jesus is the one who has every right to issue any order He desires, and yet He is also the One who grasps better than we do the implications of any of those orders.
Jesus is the Lord who commands, but He’s also the Lord who understands.
This same One who calls us to leave all behind, to forsake the priorities of the world, to seek not earthly treasure, to forsake power and prestige, to give up our lives for the sake of the kingdom… this is the same One who understands all the temporal difficulty and pain that commitment might bring. What’s more, He’s the One who invites us not to suffer with our doubt, fear, or apprehension in silence, but instead to bring it to Him:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).
He is more than our authority; Jesus is our friend. He is more than the One who commands; He’s the One who understands.
This is why we can not just bend the knee to His authority; we can adore Him while doing so.