Monday, December 26, 2011

Angels from the Realms of Glory

Excerpts from Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins.

James Montgomery was born 1771 in Scotland.  His parents were Irish Moravian missionaries.  They moved to the West Indies, leaving James in an Irish Moravian community.  He attended Seminary by age 7, but in his seminary career, his parents died, so he dropped out and grew up to be homeless.

Ironically, the above video is labeled "Angels from the Realms of Glory."  However, it is Third Day singing "Angels We Have Heard on High."  If it wasn't such a good rendition of the song, it would not be here.

James Montgomery, like most vagrants, was a starving artist who only liked to write.  Soon, the Sheffield Register noticed his talent and hired him.  He wrote stories about being Irish under British government.  Later, he became editor of the paper, changed its name to the Sheffield Iris, and wrote to champion for the Irish against the British.  He wrote so strongly that he got arrested twice.  At the same time, he would also read the Bible, still working through the loss of his parents.  Through time, he grew in the faith, blending that into his writings.  On Christmas Eve in 1816, he wrote a poem for the Iris.  What would normally arm the Irish against the British actually brought them closer to their enemies.

This is the text to "Angels from the Realms of Glory" but the tune is "Angels We Have Heard on High."  We sure get our angels confused.  This is performed by Sissel and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  We also get our theologies confused, but we'll get to that when I discuss the text.

Back to Montgomery: the poem in the Iris was called "Nativity."  It later became "Angels from the Realms of Glory."  One forgotten verse still spoke of social wrongs:

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence;
Mercy calls you.  Break your chains.
Even in that verse, one can see James transforming from an angry Irishman and lost soul to a repentant sinner longing for freedom from something beyond this world.

 Here, Annie Lennox sings the song.  Also to the tune of "Angels We Have Heard on High."  I used to love her voice.  At this point, she's getting to old to sing.  It's like she had nodules or something.  

In God's sense of humor, this poem from a man who hated the English reached the ears of an Englishman named Henry Smart.  He loved the words and wrote the tune to which we now sing the words.  This song unintentionally united the Irish and the British and is now sung all over the world.

Here it is sung by some prosperity "ministry."  They use the proper tune written by Henry Smart.  The ministry's tag line is, "Receive power for practical living today, visit www.websitei'"  I'm not going to judge the salvation of these people as so many Americans are duped into thinking that God is their magic charm for achieving the American Dream.  I know God is way merciful than I could ever be, but I think I'd almost rather hear the Mormons or Annie Lennox singing this song than these clones who are simply entertaining people.

Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o'er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation's story,
Now proclaim Messiah's birth.
Come and worship, come and worship, 
Worship Christ the newborn King.
It's so ironic that so many Mormons and non-believers will sing this song as it clearly calls us to Worship Christ.  Though I do see how they could miss the concept as to them Christ is just a demigod who earned this planet and devout Mormon men will do the same someday.  But I'm sure even among their writings they have a copy of the Ten Commandments which says you shall have no other gods before me.  We'd be in serious idolatry if we sang this song and Christ wasn't actually God.

This guy who thinks he's David Crowder, does an excellent job with the song.  He rocks out as he describes this song as "Off the beaten path."  How true that is!  It's not one of those songs you hear as often as you hear "Angels We Have Heard on High."  Hence, it's sometimes sung to the latter tune.  He also throws in lesser known verses that are very God-glorifying.

Though an Infant now we view Him
He shall fill His Fathers throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To the eternal Three in One.

I'm still amazed at how lesser-known Trinitarian verses get lost through political correctness and it takes good sleuths to unearth them and sing them on YouTube.

Shepherds in the fields abiding,
Watching o'er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant Light.
The above is a blatant reference to Christ's deity, however, that did not get lost through the ages.  It is a more familiar verse linking "God with man" and "infant Light."

Here is a wordless version of Smart's tune in pipe organ.  There are no lyrics posted, but that doesn't mean you can't sing along.

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations,
Ye have seen his natal star.
Amazingly, when I write out these verses, I see things I've never seen before.  "Leave your contemplations."  Get off your laurels and actively seek the Lord in society.  "Seek the great Desire of nations."  There is so much more to this life than social justice.  This Christ we sing about is what you have always longed for, that emptiness you can never fill by fighting injustice and seeking freedom from the Brits.  "Ye have seen his natal star."  This Christ is for real.  He is not a secret.  We need to look to him and not to our own efforts or sit around waiting for something to happen.

Here are the Mormons again, this time with Natalie Cole and the "Angels We Have Heard on High" tune.  I hope this doesn't mean Natalie Cole is Mormon, only that she's singing with a highly talented choir that I'd probably even sing with.  I always thought she was actually a for real believer in Christ.

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.
The last verse a call to believers to not only get off their couches and stop waiting for change, but to encourage them that they are only tools in the hands of God.  One day, Christ will come back, take over this planet, and bring us a new heaven and a new earth.  He is the change we want, not any elected official.

Same choir, same version, this time with the King's Singers.  Vast contrast from Annie Lennox.  And yes, they are singing the Trinitarian verses.

Ace Collins also includes a verse by Montgomery from a different poem that continues the theme of waiting on the Lord for justice while still actively carrying out his will while we wait:

Beyond this vale of tears,
There is a life above,
Unmeasured by the flight of yars;
And all that life is love.
At last, a Lutheran choir!  Sadly, we only get the tail end of the song.  Then they start a beautiful song that gets cut off at the end.  There are soloists who for once sing on key and do not sound bored.  I would have loved to have attended this whole lessons and carols service.

Finally, home in England, the King's College Cambridge singers sing the "Angels We Have Heard on High" tune.  Sorry Henry Smart.  We still like your tune.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading about the background of all these wonderful Christmas songs I have sung most of my life.