”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.”
The angels “from the realms of glory” that the song refers to are the “heavenly host” that the Bible says in Luke 2:13-14 appeared in the sky above Bethlehem when Jesus Christ was born on the first Christmas, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
Lyricist James Montgomery, who first published 'Angels From the Realms of Glory' as a poem in the newspaper he ran in London, England, found that his Christmas poem was popular. But Montgomery went to prison twice for printing newspaper content that called attention to unpopular issues that upset the English government. The first time, Montgomery was jailed for publishing a poem that celebrated the fall of the Bastille during the French Revolution. The poem irked English authorities because England was at war with France at the time it was published. The second time Montgomery went to prison, it was on libel charges stemming from reporting about a riot in which English soldiers injured and killed some demonstrators. But Montgomery wrote that he had made "a plain determination, come wind or sun, come fire or water, to do what was right" by using his newspaper to call attention to issues that he thought needed people’s attention.
'Angels From the Realms of Glory' began as a poem rather than a song. Lyricist James Montgomery said he felt inspired to write the words to it quickly on December 24, 1816 after reading the Bible’s account of the first Christmas. The words flowed easily as Montgomery reflected on the angels’ announcement of Jesus Christ’s birth. That evening (Christmas Eve), he published the words as a poem in the newspaper he owned in London, England, The Sheffield Iris.
Much later, in 1867, composer and organist Henry Smart set Montgomery’s words to music that he had previously written for a song he called 'Regent Square' (named after Regent Square Presbyterian Church in London, England) and named the new song 'Angels From the Realms of Glory'.