Songs of Christmas…There’s a Song in the Air


This is part 4 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

I know, I said in Friday’s post that I was going to post about this carol yesterday. I forgot it was Saturday and I was going to deal with something a little more secular on Saturdays. I had this ready and written when I realized it, so I pushed this back another day.

In Josiah Holland we have another lyricist who made a career change for which we benefit greatly. Holland, born in Massachusetts in 1819, went to school to become a doctor. He finished the course of study and went into practice. It didn’t, however, last long. Holland took a job with the Springfield Republican. A few years later he founded Scribner’s Magazine where he remained editor for the remainder of his career.

Holland was also an accomplished author in his own right. He wrote several best selling novels. His works of fiction brought him high praise. He also wrote poetry. Holland was a very faithful man and his Methodist background showed in many of his writings.

One of the poems he wrote is our Christmas song for the day, There’s a Song in the Air in 1874. Holland wrote the piece for publication in a Sunday school journal where it might have died, never to be heard from again. But, later in 1874 Holland published a book titled Complete Poetical Writings.

Karl P. Harrington discovered the poem in Holland’s Complete Poetical Writings in 1904. Harrington was an avid reader. It was a way to help him relax and relieve stress. Among his favorite authors was Josiah Holland.

Harrington was a church musician and was also on the committee compiling the 1905 Methodist Hymnal. Harrington found the hymnal to be a huge and stressful undertaking. Trying to figure out the worship needs of every Methodist congregation from the very small to the very large was no small task. As he grew frustrated he withdrew more to his reading and in particular Josiah Holland.

Harrington picked up Holland’s Complete Poetical Writings. As he read through the book he came across “There’s a Song in the Air.” He immediately realized it was unlike anything he had previously read of Holland’s work. He thought to himself, “This needs to be put to music.” He went to his organ and began to play the keys and a melody came to life.

Once the poem had a tune, the only thing left for Harrington was to publish the song. He did that by including it in the 1905 Methodist Hymnal. The hymn quickly gained popularity and became a part of hymnals in many different Christian traditions.

Holland never knew his poem became a song. He passed away a few years before Harrington discovered the poem. Still, many of us love this hymn and look forward to singing it each year.

The chorus above is actually new to many of us. It is not included with the song in the United Methodist Hymnal.

As I have contemplated the words to this hymn and learned about both its poet and composer, I was struck with how close we might have come to never having this beautiful carol. What if Karl Harrington had remained hard at work and didn’t take the time to read in order to relieve his stress. The world probably would not have this beautiful song. But, throughout his work on the hymnal, Harrington prayed that God would guide his work. I believe we can chalk that one up to an answered prayer.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.


Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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