Let’s Sing: Angels We Have Heard on High

Today we continue our Advent/Christmas series titled “Let’s Sing.” This is our 16th song of the series. For easy reference to the remainder of the series, please see the index, “Let’s Sing” at http://revbroyles.me/2020/12/06/lets-sing/.

There is a legend that goes with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It would seem that, as the legend goes, the carol originated by French shepherds watching over sheep in the countryside. These shepherds identified with the shepherds in the Luke 2 story and came up with the hymn. Through oral tradition these shepherds passed the carol from one generation to the next. They would gather around campfires during the Christmas season, their carol making its way across fields and valleys to tell other shepherds they were not alone and to celebrate the birth of the Christ.

It’s a nice story but the legend probably isn’t true. Elements are true. The carol, as first appearing in a hymnal was French. The carol is based on Luke 2. The hymn was probably used to teach the Church through oral tradition, perhaps even around campfires. Beyond that, there is little evidence to prove this.

Maybe more than any other carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High is truly anonymous in it’s origins. The lyrics of the carol suggest that the lyricist was someone with a strong knowledge of Scripture and a gift for being able to turn Scripture into musically workable verse. This would seem to point to a priest or a monk.

The song first appeared in a French hymnal in 1855. This has given credence to the idea that the carol is French in origin. While it may be that some of the hymn did originate in France, it has its roots to a time before Christianity had gained a foothold in western Europe. There is one school of thought that suggests at least the chorus of the hymn could predate Christianity’s acceptance by the Roman Empire. Some have even suggested that it is possible that the person who wrote that part of the carol could possibly have even known Jesus! I am not trying to suggest that such is true, only that some have suggested it as a possibility.

“Gloria in Excelsis Deo,”translated into English means, “Glory to God in the highest.” This is a phrase that played an important role in early Church worship dating back the the second century.

During that period, Pope Telesphorus ordered, that on the day the Church celebrated the Lord’s birth, all churches would have special evening services (perhaps the origins of Midnight Mass). After the reading of Scripture and the saying of specific prayers, the congregation was to sing the words, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” Monks then carried the Pope’s decree throughout the land. By the third century it was the practice of almost every congregation.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” fits well with the French tradition of the crèche. Handmade nativity scenes are found in homes, around towns and even in the country side. Excellent craftsmanship is given to these scenes, and towns and communities producing them take great pride in their work. It is interesting that “crèche” is also the French term for a nursery for young children during the day.

This tradition is particularly strong in Provence, the south of France, with a crèche includes the usual host of characters but has some special ones as well. Local figures such as the mayor, the little drummer boy, or a peasant dressed in traditional attire are also present. There are also traditions in some places where people dress as the shepherds and join in a procession to the church. Children also traditionally contribute to the crèches by pebbles and rocks, moss, and pieces of evergreens to complete the nativity scene. When the scene is set, everyone in the town joins in singing traditional Christmas carols.

What are your traditions of Christmas?

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.



Published by drjkbroyles

I love Mike Ashcraft's book, "My One Word." For the past nine years I have participated and encouraged others to participate to in the "My One Word" Challenge. My first word was discipline was my word the first year. Since then my word has been focus, sight, jungle, peace, concentration, serve, genuine and this year is fit. I seek to be fit for my health, my family, my church, my ministries. I seek to be fit in any are of my life where God might point to me. I also have a nickname, "Dr. B." When I was a public high school teacher, Dr. B. is what most of my students called me, at least in my presence. I am still called that by many people though I no longer teach in public schools. I am the author of "Average Joe: With an Extraordinary Story" (available on Amazon). The book fits into the genre of "Biblical Fiction" or "Christian Fiction" and features some of the Bible's lesser known characters. The name of my blog is, "Fork in the Road." Life is filled with forks in the road. It isn't a matter of if we encounter a fork in the road, but when will we and how many will we experience in a lifetime. I love to strum my guitar. I am not a great guitar player but I enjoy it. I also enjoy writing music. I get excited with I feel a new song emerging. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog, "Bishop" in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 30 years as a United Methodist pastor, serving churches all over east and southeast Texas, from just north of Tyler to south of Houston, from the Gulf Coast to east of Madisonville. I currently serve Perritte Memorial UMC in Nacogdoches. I spent one year in the classroom, teaching High School government, economics, psychology, and sociology. Cindy and I have been married for 43 years. We have two grown sons and six grandchildren, three boys and three girls. I enjoy preaching and all it's aspects from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading. I have dabble in drawing and "painting" with pastels as well as woodworking and woodcarving. My current projects are two ukuleles. I collect, repair and restore guitars too. I play the guitar (badly, but I still do) I also enjoy working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, TX, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. This blog started out as devotional writings. In August of 2020, I made a major change to the blog, switching to a daily theme format. Sunday Sermon-usually my manuscript sermon Miscellaneous Monday-misc. writing, poetry, ministry Tuesday Thoughts-Devotion Wed. with Wesleys-hist. & theol. of early Methodists TED Talk Thursday-Video & appl. in current theology Five for Friday-5 things I've seen & my thoughts Sing-Along Sat. - Usually a new song I have written I write, "Strumming a G-Chord with Dr.B." to get my thoughts onto something permanent. After all, they say, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. Seeking the Genuine, Keith Lufkin, Texas August 2020

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