Sunday, December 18, 2016

Songs & the Stories Behind Them--Part 1

Hi people!  

Today I've got 3 songs to give you the history of.
Jesseca and Faith have joined me in researching their backgrounds.
Jesseca is doing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Faith is doing O Holy Night, and I am doing Angels from the Realms of Glory.
This is the first post I will do on the subject; I'll be back with another post later in the linkup with some other songs.
So, without further ado…

Angels from the Realms of Glory
James Montgomery, writer of Angels, began writing poetry at age 10.  He flunked out of school at age 14, but he found a job in 1792 at a weekly newspaper.  He became the leader of the paper when the previous editor fled the country, and served there for 31 years as the editor.  Angels from the Realms of Glory was first published on Christmas Eve in his newspaper, but it wasn’t sung in churches until it was reprinted in 1825.
There is actually a stanza usually omitted from hymnals:

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes your sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains . . .

I love this song.  For one, it makes an awesome bluegrass song. ;)  But the words are great too:
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!

Angels.  Heavenly beings.  God’s select messengers.  Messengers that visited Mary, Elizabeth, and the shepherds.

Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
Watching o'er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant Light;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Lowly shepherds.  This is what we always call them.  According to a thesaurus, these could be other names for ‘lowly shepherds’: humble, plebeian, common, ordinary, average, simple, inferior, obscure, ignoble… you get the picture.  To me, this sheds more light on how ‘lowly’ the shepherds were. ;)  Pretty much the lowest class you could get.  But God send His appointed messengers to them.  This is symbolic of how Christ came not only for the righteous, but the unrighteous as well.

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great desire of nations,
Ye have seen His natal star;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

In other words, it says ‘scholars, quit your studying complex things, because there’s greater things to study; study the desire of nations, you’ve seen the star that symbolizes His birth!”

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

It’s just such a happy, bubbly, worship-y song! XD  “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the newborn King!”  I love that sentence! :D  It’s what Christianity is all about; worshiping Jesus and His Father.  

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

And in despair, I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said. For Hate is strong and mocks the song of ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.’

Wow. Don’t those words seem to correctly sum up the situation in our world today? With just a quick glance over the words, you could very easily assume that this song was written perhaps just a few years ago.
But in fact, this song was written during the civil war. Unrest and hate seems to have been present at nearly all times through our nation’s history. Even though this song can be correctly applied to the era we live in today, let’s take a second to peek back through the window of history and look at how this Christmas hymn came to be.
It was the year 1863. The American civil war was raging on American soil, yet the battle waged on the battleground of the hearts of many people was even more agonizing.
It was a war where brothers fought on the opposite sides. Closest friends were suddenly your enemies. And families were forever torn apart.
In the midst of this chaos that had engulfed our continent, one poet was to be remembered above all others. His name was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Just a few short months before Christmas, his oldest son left, leaving only a note behind. I have tried hard to resist leaving without your blessing, but my first duty is to my country. . .

The letter was a blow to Henry, who had lost his wife only two years before in a tragic fire. For many months he heard little or nothing from his son, and then, just before Christmas, he received a telegram.
His son had been wounded.
In the midst of the heartache, grief, and uncertainty of the war, the tired poet sat down at his desk, and, putting pen to paper, he unknowingly gave us one of the most beloved Christmas songs of our day.
I heard the bells on Christmas day,
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, Goodwill toward men.

I thought as how this day had come,
the belfries all in christendom,
Had sung the song, the unbroken song,
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.    

And in despair I bowed my head.
There is no peace on earth I said.
For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and clear,
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.

No matter how messed up things on this earth may seem, God is still in control. Wrong will fail, and right will eventually prevail.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to the earth as a baby to be our saviour, but He will return to earth as the rightful king. When He rules, everything on this earth will be put to right.
And even now, when the world seems to be in a state of chaos, and when nothing is really certain anymore, He is in control. And what He wills is what comes to pass.
Merry Christmas!

O Holy Night

O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt it's worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Chances are, if you've listened to any Christmas music at all (which is hard to skip this time of year unless you're a complete Scrooge), you've heard these lyrics. But you probably don't know the story behind the beloved song. I didn't either until I went searching, but here's what I found…

 O Holy Night is a Christmas song of French origin. It was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure – a wine commissionaire and known poet, but not a familiar face in the local church. Nevertheless, the parish priest asked Placide to write a poem for the upcoming Christmas mass.
 Placide was honored by the request and agreed. Imagining what it would be like to witness that night in Bethlehem from Luke’s account of the happenings, he wrote a poem titled Cantique de Noel.
 The talented poet was moved the words he himself had penned and felt that this poem should be put to music. He then turned to his friend Adolphe Charles Adams, a well-known classical musician.
 Adolphe was challenged by this poem, these soon-to-be lyrics. A Jewish man, he noted how the poet openly embraced the birth of this Baby to be God’s greatest gift to mankind. Yet still, he set the beauty words to equally enchanting music – producing a finished work that pleased both Adolphe and Placide.
 The song was an instant favorite, but it's time in the spotlight was about to be cut short. Or was it? When Placide left the church to joined the socialist movement and it was discovered that the musician behind the song was Jewish, the song was denounced by the church. Dropped. Tossed out. Deemed unfit.
 And yet, even in this seemingly hopeless situation, God had a plan. Although the church attempted to do away with the song, the French people kept the love of Cantique de Noel alive and often sang it in their homes.
 But maybe you're wondering how this song ever found its way to America? Let's move on, shall we?

 John Sullivan Dwight, known later in his life as a reclusive American writer, discovered the French Cantique de Noel while looking for new material to review for his publication Dwight’s Journal of Music. An abolitionist in the days before and during the American Civil War, he especially loved the words of one of the verses which reads.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.

 Translated into the beautiful English text you hear on your radio by Dwight, the song was quickly loved by Americans as well as the French.

 Although it is uncertain whether it is closer to fact or fiction, a French legend tells of a time during the Franco-Prussian War when this song played an important role in a temporal truce between opposing armies.
 On Christmas Eve of 1871, the Germans and French were engaged in heavy fighting when a French soldier soldier sprang from his muddy trench...and began to sing. He sang the entire three verses of Cantique de Noel. When he finished, a German infantryman followed his example by stepping out of his hiding place and singing Martin Luther’s From Heaven above to Earth I Come.
 According to the story, a twenty-four hour truce followed, during which men of both sides were able to enjoy Christmas without the constant threat of enemy fire.
 Whether or not this story is entirely true, it's a good one to know. Not only does it shed some light on war and how it impacts those it directly involved, but it gives us a deeper understanding of how God can use a beautiful melody to bring calm into chaos.
 Again in 1906, O Holy Night made history. On Christmas Eve, a university professor by the name of Reginald Fessenden did something men had beforehand considered impossible. Using a new type of generator, he spoke into a microphone and his voices as broadcasted across the airwaves.
 What words did he speak, you ask? Luke chapter two. The story of Jesus’ birth. The few people who caught on to what they were hearing were shocked. It seemed miraculous. Unaware of the stir he was causing, Fessenden finished reciting the Christmas story, picked up his violin, and began to play O Holy Night. The beautiful carol was the first to be sang over radio waves.

 From French beginnings and then finding its way into Americans’ hearts and homes, O Holy Night impacts lives every time it's played or sang. It's a beautiful song and one I love dearly. Check out the following video for a beautiful version. Merry Christmas everyone!


  1. Really enjoyed writing this with you girls!! :)

  2. Beautiful! This is what I was going to do with We Three Kings.

  3. I really enjoyed this! It makes the carols mean so much more, now.


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