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 blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain 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.
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!
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.
Words by Edmund H. Sears, 1849
Music by Richard S. Willis, 1850
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:8 – 14
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28 – 30
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There are few things as beautiful as looking at the stars on a clear winters night. Yes, there is a scientific explanation for why the stars appear brighter in the winter. But when you look upon them that doesn’t seem to matter. It is in this setting that Edmund H. Sears places his song, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”
Sears paint for us the picture of the angels in the sky. The same angels who proclaimed to the shepherds the birth of the Savior. Now before we go on, it is worth noting that when you look at the words of this Christmas hymn, there is one thing that seems glaring for its absence. Nowhere in these verses do we find a reference of Christ birth. Now our first reaction may be that this is unacceptable, however if we honestly look at the hymn we realize that Christ birth is a given that need not be addressed.
So the hymn focuses not on the birth of Christ, but on the message of the angels, ““Peace on the earth, good will to men, From Heaven’s all gracious King.”These words are familiar to anyone who has heard the Christmas account found in Luke 2, specifically verse 14.
The message that was given to the shepherds rings with the truth that all the earth anxiously awaited hearing. For the world is filled with strife and struggles and needs rest. In this light the midnight clear spoken of in the hymn, becomes a visible image of the peace proclaimed by the angels, the peace so desperately desired by the world. So the hymn continues, “The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.”
We are presented with an interesting thought when the song continues, “And ever over its Babel sounds the blessèd angels sing.” The message still rings today, but the question is, do we hear the message? There are so many things that seem to get in our way. Our own trouble, our busy schedules and our own foolish beliefs become an obstacle to the joyous news the angels brought. But if we heed the words of the hymn, “O hush the noise, ye men of strife And hear the angels sing.” it still speaks to us today. “In the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
It is finally, in the fourth verse, that we hear the call that our hearts long to hear. The verse says, “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!” Let us set aside the burdens we carry and find rest in Christ of whom the angels sing. It is Jesus himself who told us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
When we place our trust and faith in the one of whom the angels sang, we can know a peace that surpasses understanding. (Philippians 4:7) It is through this peace that we can then “send back the song, which now the angels sing.”
Read more about “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”