Did you ever sing a song and not fully understand all the words? I must admit that this was the case with this week's choice. I have sung it all of my life and yet not fully understood the words of verse three. But recently, after looking at the time when it was written, I began to understand that the writing of this text occurred at a time in American history when there was much unrest, including the foreboding of the tensions between the North and Southern States, social upheaval due to industrial revolution, and the time of the "Forty-niner" gold rush. This Christmas carol actrually helped to heal the torn nation by the foretelling of better times to come. Perhaps in today's world of strife the words of this old hymn can again bring comfort to those of us who are bent beneath the crushing load of life. The final stanza is a verse of hopeful optimism: "When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world gives back the song, which now the angels sing." The writer of the text, Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears, was born on April 6, 1810, (my birthday but 131 years earlier), in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School and spent life pasturing small Unitarian Churches in Massachusetts. Many were surprised that Sears, a Unitarian, could write such a fine text surrounding Christ's nativity. He was viewed to be more a Unitarian in name than by conviction, for he believed and preached the deity of Christ from his pulpit. He wrote: "Although I was educated in the Unitarian denomination, I believe and preach the Divinity of Christ." Sears wrote a number of publications, but authored only two hymn texts, both intended for the Christmas season. His first carol hymn, written while a student in Harvard Divinity School, was "Calm on the Listening Ear of Night." This hymn is also included in various hymnals today, but it is not as popular as "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" written 15 years later. The first two verses tell beautifully the Christmas story - the first coming of Jesus. The third verse expresses hope for those who are crushed by the events around them. Finally, the fourth verse presents the impact of the day when Christ shall come again. What a great message for those who lived in the time when it was written, as well as for those of us today.
(1) 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, good will to men,
From Heaven's all gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
(2) 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 over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
(3) And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
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!
(4) For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
Listen to it here. LISTEN