True and novel stories can enrich your Christmas. Your personal "favorite Christmas" stories can be shared and savored. Here are some stories behind the Christmas carols you might enjoy sharing with the family.
Angels from the Realms of Glory
James Montgomery was a man whose young adult years were spent as little more than a tramp, homeless and unemployed for weeks at a time.
Born in 1771 of Irish Moravian missionary parents, John spent much of his childhood, cared for in a Moravian community in Ballymena, Ireland. He was a bright child, and at age seven, he was admitted to Fulneck Seminary in Yorkshire, England. Then tragedy struck. When young James turned twelve, his parents died on the mission field. Losing interest in his studies, James flunked out of seminary. A nearby baker took him on as an assistant, but this position didn't last either. Confused and disillusioned with life, James began to drift, taking on and losing whatever odd jobs presented themselves.
Yet, like all of us, God had given James a special gift. His gift was the gift of writing, and whatever money he earned above absolute necessities, he spent on pencils and paper. Hour after hour, he would pen prose and poetry. His subjects? Loneliness, revolution, anti- slavery, faith, and everything in between. But publishers weren't interested in his work. Finally, however, the editor of Sheffield Register, a newspaper with a penchant toward radical denouncement of British treatment of Irish and slaves, took note of his talent.
Here James was paid to do what he loved most to do: write stories. Here he waged literary war against the perceived wrongs of the British. James also started reading the Bible, in a personal quest to understand what power had inspired his parents to live, and ultimately give their lives, on the mission field.
Soon thereafter, the editor of the Register was run out of town due to his denouncement of the British government. Undaunted, James renamed the paper Sheffield Iris, and continued the crusade to right the wrongs he saw around him, through the power of his pen. Not surprisingly, he had a hefty readership of disgruntled Irishmen, who enjoyed his fiery editorials that widened the gulf between Irish and English.
On December 24, 1816, James penned a new verse, on a new subject. Titled Nativity, this beautiful poem touched the hearts of his readers as never before.
James Montgomery's poem may have been long forgotten, had it not been for a musician who was fast growing blind. Some twenty years after the poem first appeared in print, Henry Smart, a composer that was part of the establishment James so strongly denounced, recognized the loveliness of James' poem, and set it to music.
Henry had abandoned his career as an attorney, to become an organist and composer. Henry's "mission" was to bring beautiful music to England's churches. Often resistant to change, many church leaders clung to the older-style chants that they had used for hundreds of years. Henry believed that congregation members, not just clergy, should be an active part of worship. He composed melodies and harmonies that finally won the hearts of the Church of England.
Even before young James Montgomery's Nativity was put to music, the direction of his life took a turn. His vision to spawn rebellion via fiery stories and editorials dimmed, and it was replaced with a desire to spread the faith of his father and mother. He had finally come to understand the love of God that had motivated his parents to give their all as missionaries. He returned to the Moravian church and lent his zeal to support mission work.
When in God's timing, James Montgomery, Irish poet, merged his talents with those of Henry Smart, the gifted English musician, their combined efforts brought over 400 beautiful hymns to the church of England. The most famous hymn of their combined efforts is Nativity, which was renamed Angels From the Realms of Glory.
Adapted from Stories Behind the best-loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins
Angels We Have Heard on High
How would you like to sing a Christmas carol similar to what was sung by early church fathers, almost two thousand years ago? As far back as 130 A.D., Pope Telesphorus decreed that on the day we celebrate the Lord's birth, all churches should have a Sunday evening service. He directed that certain Scriptures be read, certain prayers prayed. After each of these, the congregation should sing, "Gloria in excelsis Deo." Translated, this means "Glory to God in the highest!"
This instruction was followed by the unknown writer of the Christmas carol, Angels We Have Heard on High. If the pope was solidifying common practice, it is quite possible that the chorus of our present carol may have been sung by someone who actually knew Jesus when he was here on earth! The simplicity of the melody is reminiscent of the early chants, covering no more than an octave in range. Yet its lilting melody continues to inspire us as we sing the Christmas story these many years later.
Often called the French Carol, because the verses of the carol were first discovered in French, this carol of unknown origin is a tribute to the many nameless servants of God who shared the good news through poetry and song throughout the centuries. Glory to God in the highest!