Song Reflection: “Angels from the Realms of Glory”

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, History of Worship and Church Music, Personal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & ThoughtLeave a Comment

In preparation for the release of our album, Without Our Aid, on September 13, 2011, we’ve begun a series of posts reflecting on the hymns incorporated into the project. 

For those who worship in more liturgically-oriented contexts, you’re probably familiar with the fact that the Christian “new year” doesn’t line up with our calendar’s new year.  Our new year happens a month earlier than January 1, when we begin the season of Advent.  Advent is a season of hope, fostering faith by looking back (to Christ’s first coming) and looking forward (to Christ’s second coming).  It is at once historical and eschatological.  “Angels from the Realms of Glory” is a hymn that perfectly fits this paradigm.  In fact, the first verse paints a beautiful picture of how the angels themselves share in history’s timeline:

Angels, from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
You, who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

The entire hymn is a series of direct addresses, summoning the four corners of the world to come and worship Christ, the newborn King.  Each verse crescendos from the previous–angels, shepherds, saints, all creation–summoning heaven and earth to herald the arrival of our great King. 

Musically, if there’s any time of year in which modern churches become a bit more “traditional,” it’s during the Advent/Christmas season.  My worship leader friends who serve in modern worship contexts have a love-hate relationship with this period, because it often means departing (at least a bit) from their musical standard fare.  “Angels from the Realms of Glory” was written to help mitigate this tension.  While I hope that the Church in any age utilizes music in its worship from every age, I also recognize that, in an effort to build bridges for this to happen, it’s a worthy endeavor to contextualize texts into modern musical idioms.  “Angels” is perhaps the best illustration on Without Our Aid of this endeavor.  It is our most aggressive song, set in a driving, “semi-punk” style.  This particular musical setting is fitting, because it captures the joy and frivolity of the hymn text.  It’s sure to offend lovers of the traditional tune and accompaniment (“Regent Square,” written by Henry Smart in 1867), but our target for this song is not that crowd.  Our goal is to invite listeners who have never heard this glorious hymn to enjoy its rich poetry and pregnant meanings for the first time.  Hopefully, this setting can be a “gateway drug” toward appreciating its original music, as well.  Here are the words:

Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
You who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

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!

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:

All creation, join in praising
God the Father, Spirit, Son;
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One:

Lift up your heads, you mighty gates;
Be lifted up, you ancient doors.
That the King of Glory may come in,
Let the King of Glory now come in.

All hail! All hail King Jesus!
All hail! All hail Immanuel!
All hail! All hail King Jesus!
All hail! All hail the Prince of Peace!

Words: James Montgomery, 1816; Zac Hicks, 2009 (add’l lyrics adapted from Psalm 24)
Music: Zac Hicks, 2009
©2011 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP)

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