Christmas in July: week 2
Christmas in July – 2
Angels from the Realms of Glory – 146
James Montgomery – the author of this carol – was born in Scotland. His parents were Moravian missionaries. They died in the West Indies while James was still in school. James was a great supporter of missions in general and of the British & Foreign Bible Society that had been founded in 1804. He was also known for his strong opposition to slavery, boy chimney sweeps and lotteries. Eventually he settled as an editor to The Sheffield Register. He was never associated with any one denomination but was associated with Christians from several affiliations.
This carol is an invitation to come and worship Christ the newborn King. The invitation is an echo of the angels’ song to the shepherds so long ago. James then invites those wise people of his day – the philosophers and theologians – to leave their contemplations and seek the wisdom that comes from on high. The saints of God know the truth of the angels’ song and their faithful watching and waiting for God will be answered and so even though he came as an infant he will grow to fill his Father’s throne, gather all the nations to him and every knee shall then bow down.
It came upon the midnight clear – 148
Edmund Hamilton Sears was born in Berkshire, Massachusetts in 1810. He was a Unitarian pastor but only served in pastorates for 9 years before having to retire due to ill health. His later years were spent composing hymns, poems and other works of literature.
This carol was the second one he wrote. He sent it to the Rev. Dr. Morison at the Christian Register in December of 1849. Dr. Morison found its message to be so moving that he would prefer to offer it to his congregation in place of a sermon.
Certainly, the imagery that Edmund creates may be far from the reality of that night but it does fill us with wonder as we close our eyes and imagine the angels with their harps and wings unfurled coming down to bring a message of goodwill and peace. Breaking into the world in the quiet of a country night would certainly have been noticed. During a busy day perhaps it would have gone unnoticed. Sears further increases the imagery by getting us to imagine that the sky above has been split in two as the angels bring their heavenly songs. Sort of reminiscent of the splitting of the curtain in the holy of holies after Jesus’ crucifixion.
The challenge is for us to hear the song of the angels through the din of war and conflicts that continue to plague our world and be able to truly hear the love-song which they bring. The plea of Sears is that hush the noise and still the strife so we can hear the angels sing.
Silent Night – 154
Joseph Mohr was born into a humble family at Salzburg, Austria – his mother was a seamstress and his father was an army musketeer. He was ordained as a catholic priest in 1815 and served parishes in and around Salzburg his whole life.
This is the only carol of his that was ever translated into English. It was written for Christmas 1818 while he was assistant at Laufen and was set to music by Franz Gruber who was then the schoolmaster at the neighbouring village of Arnsdorf.
Fr. Mohr asked Franz Gruber to compose the melody with a guitar arrangement.
At Midnight Mass in 1818, Fr. Mohr and Franz Gruber sang each of the six verses with the church choir repeating the last two lines of each verse.
It was translated into English in 1863 by John Freeman Young. The carol was sung during the Christmas Truce in the First World War in December 1914 as it was a song that soldiers on both sides knew!
By the time that the carol was famous, Fr Mohr had died. Franz Gruber wrote to music authorities in Berlin saying that he had composed the tune, but no one believed him and it was thought that Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven had written it! But then the 1820 manuscript was found and in the top right corner Fr Mohr had written: 'Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber.'.
It's now one of the most, if not the most, recorded songs in the world!
As we sing this may we seek for the calm and the peace that this carol speaks of. Rather significant that the 100th anniversary of this carol came the December following the end of the First World War and its 200th anniversary as we rang bells for peace.
Angels we have heard on high – 147
We are back to the story of the shepherds from Luke chapter 2 for another traditional French carol. It appears in the Oxford Book of Carols which is a collection of carols from countries around the world.
This is a French noel from the Languedoc region and is believed to date from the eighteenth century. Its text and tune were first published in the Nouveau Recueil de Cantiques in 1855. The English translation originated as a free imitation from the French by James Chadwick. Originally there were 8 verses but only 4 came into common use.
It is also worth noting that the refrain of the carol contains one of the few Latin phrases to be commonly used in Protestant churches.
This carol was written a little differently as we are to imagine ourselves hearing the song of the angels and asking the shepherds why their song has so inspired them. It is the shepherds who invite us to come to Bethlehem and see the Christ who has been born. We are invited by the shepherds to come and adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
It is for us to see the child in the manger for ourselves, to experience the joy of new birth and to encourage the parents in their care for the child as we raise our hearts in love to sing.
The message is simple but effective. And once again the angels’ song brings joy and peace, hope and love.