Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent 2012



             When I was a little kid, my favorite carol was a bit unusual.  That was because of one of the Christmas LP records that my parents collected in the 1960's that we began stacking on the turntable during Advent each year.  Yes, thanks to Canadian bandleader Percy Faith's album Hallelujah, or as I knew it, the one with the orange cover that had the fat baby angel on it, my favorite carol was "Angels from the Realms of Glory."  Imagine lushly orchestrated "easy listening" with lots of trumpets.  Julie Andrews had a version on the album she recorded for the Firestone series - the pink one with the big bow - but while it was nice, she sang it to some weird English tune and you just couldn't march around to it singing boisterously.

While Angels is definitely an odd favorite for a child, it is truly a wonderful carol written by English poet James Montgomery in 1816.  Most hymnals include only the first four verses.  It starts out with the angels winging o'er all the earth, then moves on to shepherds in their fields abiding, sages leaving their contemplations, and saints before the altar bending.  But actually there are three more verses and I think it's a shame they are missing.  That may in part be because the next one is sort of a downer.  Montgomery wrote:


Sinners, wrung with true repentance,

Doomed for guilt to endless pains,

Justice now revokes the sentence,

Mercy calls you; break your chains.


I mean who really wants pain over Christmas?  The holidays can be tough enough as it is.  And of course no one likes to think of themselves as being sinful.  But isn't that the whole point of God's gift that we celebrate each year?  And as Grandma always said, the best gifts come in small packages:


Though an infant now we view him,

He shall fill his Father's throne,

Gather all the nations to him;

Every knee shall then bow down.


Finally, Montgomery ends his carol the only way he can, by including all of us:


All creation, join in praising

God, the Father, Spirit, Son,

Evermore your voices raising

To th'eternal Three in One.

Each stanza concludes with the charge to everyone:


Come and worship, come and worship,

Worship Christ, the newborn King!


I got over my "Angels from the Realms of Glory" phase as I grew older.  Even so, one Christmas season much later, my family was attending a service and we sang this carol.  I didn't need the hymnal.  My sister asked, "How on earth do you know all these words?"  Percy Faith and I just smiled quietly.  I think while I'm home over the holidays I'm going to have to pull out the orange LP with the fat baby angel from the stack of records, dust it off, and give it another spin just for old times' sake.

- Christopher Hendricks


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