“Angels, from the realms of glory, wing your flight oe’r 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.”
This is the first verse and refrain from that great Christmas hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory.” If you’ve heard it before, perhaps even sung it before, I have probably planted the tune in your head.
This wonderful hymn was written by an Englishman by the name of James Montgomery. Actually, Montgomery wrote the lyrics and a man by the name of Henry Smart wrote the music. Montgomery was a fascinating person. He was a preacher’s kid (which I can appreciate), who was sent to a boarding school that he flunked out of at age 14.
He soon found a job at a newspaper and eventually became the editor of the paper and was in that position for 31 years. His hymn writing followed timewise on the heels of the great writers Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, and he was widely regarded as an equal of theirs in the number and quality of hymns written. The hymn was first published in 1816 and it has been considered a Christmas worship staple ever since.
I’m convinced there are number of reasons why this old Christmas hymn has endured for so long. The music, of course, is wonderful, but even more so are the five verses that are contained within the song. They tell the whole story, from start to finish, of Jesus’ birth and culminate with the powerful and accurate description of him as the Lord of all creation, saying “gather all the nations to him; every knee shall then bow down.”
It is with this final verse that he reminds us of the truth that the apostle Paul writes of in Philippians, Chapter 2, when he pens “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
There are many reasons why people throughout the world take the time to celebrate Christmas. Many like the holiday that they get – most of which are paid for. But for Christians the real reason to celebrate is written in the refrain of the song and is repeated with each verse: “Come and worship, come and worship; worship Christ, the newborn King.”
Montgomery is doing much more than writing a catchy song for the holidays. He was striving to reveal the truth of the birth, life, death and resurrection of the man Jesus and also of his divinity and ultimate position of authority.
Coming to grips with the truth of that means that we should have no other choice, as Montgomery writes, but to “worship” Jesus.
Interestingly, if you look up the song and hymnals, you will find five verses, but of those five you don’t find the verse that says, “Sinners, wrung with true repentance, Doomed for guilt to endless pains, Justice now revokes your sentence, Mercy calls you; break your chains!” (Exclamation added by me.)
This would have been the sixth verse in the song and has been removed from most hymnals. Perhaps it was a bit too heavy for those celebrating Christmas?
It’s really too bad that verse has been removed because, truth be told, in it is the reason that we can truly celebrate Christmas. The full story of the birth of the baby Jesus culminates in “justice” and “mercy” that truly breaks our chains.
Before Jesus came, all of us were held in captivity by our disobedience to God. It was his birth and death that freed us from this captivity and separation from God. In many ways Christmas and the Christmas story are to humanity what the Fourth of July is to America – only on a cosmic and eternal scale. It is a declaration of independence.
We are free because of Jesus and his sacrifice for us. This is the best reason to celebrate, by worshiping Jesus on Dec. 25. Have a great, merry Christmas!
The Rev. John Myers is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Salida.