Songs of Christmas…Angels From the Realms of Glory


This is part 23 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.

Our lives can talk a lot of twists and turns. Such would be the case for James Montgomery, an Irishman who spent most of his life living in England. Such was no small task in the England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Montgomery was born in Scotland to an Irish Moravian pastor and his wife. By the time Montgomery was seven, his parents had left England, and him, to head to the mission field where they would die in the mission service.

When his parents left for the mission field, they left him in a boarding school. By the time Montgomery was 10 he was writing poetry, but that was the only thing he was interested in doing. He left school by the time he was 14 for academic reasons.

For the next several years Montgomery worked at times and was unemployed and homeless at times. He used much of his money to purchase pencil and paper.

Though no publisher was interested in his writing, the editor of the radical Sheffield Register could see Montgomery’s raw talent. Montgomery spent the next two years writing stories for the paper. The paper used much of its content to bring forward the struggle the Irish faced with the English. When the radical editor had to flee England under threat of persecution, Montgomery took over leadership of the paper and changed the name to the Sheffield Iris. But, if anyone thought the paper would change with the masthead change would be wrong. Montgomery continued to press on the Irish-English issue and also brought forward the evils of the slave trade in the paper. His writing resulted in two prison terms.

Those who supported Montgomery’s stands continued to scour the paper for more of his fiery editorials. On Christmas Eve 1816 Montgomery surprised his readers with his poem “Nativity.” The words of the poem sought more to unite than divide in saying that Jesus Christ came for everyone. Though the poem didn’t say as much, the implication was, Irish and English alike.

As Montgomery’s life continued he began to understand his parent’s calling to the mission field. He returned to his roots in the Moravian church and working hard in the support of missions.

Though “Nativity” was popular, it would have most likely faded away if not for the English composer Henry Smart. Smart was at odds with the Anglican Church clergy who saw the people in the pews as spectators in worship. Smart believed worship was something in which everyone should participate. The chants that were church music of the day did little to encourage this. Smart, following in the footsteps of the likes of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley helped to make great strides in church music. The common Christian loved the new music and began to demand it be part of worship.

By the time Smart was eighteen years old, he was going blind. By the time Montgomery published “Nativity” in the Iris Christmas Even of 1816, Smart probably was unable to read it. Yet years later, someone read him the poem and he put it to music. He gave it a new title and the world had a new Christmas carol to use in celebration of the days of Christmas.

For the England of the early 19th century, the alliance of Montgomery and Smart, an Irishman and an Englishman was an unlikely combination. There is little or no evidence indicating that the two actually collaborated together on the piece. Still God brought together these two men in an unlikely partnership.

How has God done the unlikely in you?

 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.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

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

One thought on “Songs of Christmas…Angels From the Realms of Glory

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s