Monday, December 28, 2015

Angels from the Realms of Glory

In the world of commerce, "Christmas" begins sometime in October, often clashing the red and green of new life with the orange and black of the hallows of Hallowe'en.  No wonder the secular world decries the playing of Christmas music (musak) by the middle of December.

   In the Christian tradition though, Christmas doesn't start until Dec. 25.  In the four Sundays preceding Christ's birth we celebrate Advent with candles and carols such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and "On Jordan's Bank."  If we adhere strictly to the Christian calendar, we sing Christmas carols in the days between Christmas Day, Dec. 25 and Epiphany, January 6.
   In that we differ markedly from the shopping mall and the radio stations who seem to think that Christmas ends at noon on the 25th. By Boxing Day there isn't a hint of a Silent Night or Little Town of Bethlehem.  It makes me sad to see Christmas curtailed in such a way, so I'm glad we've got twelve days of Christmas in the church.
    One of our Christmas carols that may be sung during that time is "Angels from the Realms of Glory."  The author, James Montgomery was the child of Moravian missionaries.   The parents placed young James in Moravian settlement in Ireland when he was only six, in order to answer their call to missionary work in the Caribbean.  Sadly, they died without ever seeing their son again.  
     James was unsuccessful at school so was apprenticed to a baker.  Again, not his field.  After drifting about Great Britain for a time, he finally settled in Sheffield and began writing for the Sheffield Register.  At last, he'd found his niche.  The paper was politically active and the owner had to flee the country to avoid imprisonment.  James Montgomery bought the Register and renamed it the Sheffield Iris.  He kept it's Reform leanings and was twice imprisoned for his editorials.  He persevered in his devotion to Christ and the gospel, championed the cause of foreign missions and the British Bible Society. 
    Eventually, he became a respected leader in Sheffield and his writings much admired.  On Christmas Eve, 1816, the forty-five year old James opened his Bible to Luke 2: 13.  "And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying:" (KJV)  The story of the angels sparked an idea and by the end of the day his new Christmas poem, "Angels from the Realms of Glory,"  was being read in the pages of his newspaper.  Later it was set to music, Regent Square, by Henry T. Smart and was first sung on Christmas Day, 1821 in a Moravian Church in England.
   Montgomery was a prolific writer and poet, but "Angels from the Realms of Glory" is probably his best-known contribution to the world of letters.

Ed. Note  The inspiration for this post came from a book donated to SPPC by one of the saints of this congregation who has passed on to her heavenly reward.  It seems especially fitting that her gift be celebrated at Christmas.

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