Christmas Music Matters: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

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Christmas Music Matters!

During this Season, we hear Christmas Carols everywhere. We should, however, extract them from the Muzak of Elevator Music and take heed to the very important message many impart. For Christians who celebrate this Feast of the Nativity of Christ, which is, itself, connected to and expressive of the Birth of the New Light at the Winter Solstice, Christmas Music, including the Western Christmas Carol tradition, teaches us the real meaning and impact we are called to implement in the world.

Today, let’s listen to an old favorite, 1849’s “It came upon the midnight clear” by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,1
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled2
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not3
The love-song which they bring;4
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,5
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,6
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,7
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold8
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,9
And the whole world give back the song10
Which now the angels sing.
— Original five-stanza hymn

Modified renderings:

1Peace on the earth, goodwill to all
2Beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled
3And warring humankind hears not
4The tidings which they bring
5O hush the noise and cease your strife
6And you, beneath life’s crushing load
7By prophets seen of old
8Shall come the time foretold
9When the new heaven and earth shall own
The prince of Peace their King
10And all the world give back the song

There are two musical settings for the hymn,  “Carol,” composed by Richard Storrs Willis,  the version best known in America:

and “Noel,” adapted from an English melody by A. Sullivan, best known in the U.K.:

We should note that the last stanza alludes to the coming Golden Age, prophesied by the Sibyl and Vergil, which inspired the inscription on the Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States:

Latin English
Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas; Now comes the final era of the Sibyl‘s song;
Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo. The great order of the ages is born afresh.
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna, And now justice returns, honored rules return (or return of Saturn’s reign);
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto. now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.

I don’t think I need to say much more. Sing through this marvelous poem and meditate on its message of Peace that the Logos Incarnate has come to inspire in us.

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

"Great Seal of the United States (reverse)" by IpankoninThis vector image was created with Inkscape. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svg#/media/File:Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svg

“Great Seal of the United States (reverse)” by IpankoninThis vector image was created with Inkscape. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svg#/media/File:Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svg

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