Saturday, December 26, 2009

Midnight Clear

Tuesday, for my last American Literature class of 2009,
I told the students the story of one of the oldest
American Christmas carols, It Came Upon a Midnight
Clear. Edmund Sears, the lyrics-writer, was
Unitarian minister living in a small town in south-
western Massachusetts at the time. America was gearing
up for the Civil War, so there was a great deal of unrest in
the country, and in his congregation. Unlike most Unitarians,
Sears was a staunch believer in the divinity of Christ and wrote
this carol as an encouragement to his congregation. It was
published in 1849 and was immediately popular. You can see
why, when you look at the third verse in particular. We don't
generally sing that verse, but I think it's quite appropriate for us
today. (The pictures are Christmas scenarios tucked in the nooks
and crannies of my parents' home.)

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.

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 blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the Angel-strains have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;
And man at war with man hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O! hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the Angels sing.

O 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.

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 splendours fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

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