Yesterday, I found myself scrolling through the lyrics to several well-known Christmas songs. Then again, perhaps they are not all as well-known as I had originally assumed, since I found myself reading various versions containing stanzas I had never before sung. For whatever reason, some of the verses have been excluded from the musical renditions we sing throughout the Christmas season. Most likely, it is for brevity’s purpose as many of the original versions could take a very long time to sing in their entirety.
Regardless… during my reading, I stumbled across the full-length version of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear which was originally written as a poem by Edmund H. Sears in 1849. While I can truthfully inform you that I have never made claims to memorizing this song, I can also honestly say that the only verse I can even recall singing is the opening one which reads:
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,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Sadly, the rest of the words to this poignant hymn have been missing from my life. That is, until yesterday. As I continued to read, this stirring rendition of the original enthralled me. For while the first verse speaks about the glorious message the angels sang to a listening world, the next two stanzas reveal more about the true heart of the world as I know it. A world that is anything but peaceful, and anything but resting in silence in order to hear the angels’ song of “goodwill to men.”
The world as I know it is more often filled with a cacophony of discordant, selfish cries competing to be heard above the very melody our hearts were created to embrace. Competing, yet never able to overwhelm the anthem of the angels. Indeed, there is no sound that can overpower God’s heavenly choir.
Not the slamming of prison doors closing on the freedoms of innocent believers.
Not the curses of abusive parents.
Not the scratching of a pen signing divorce papers.
Not the threats of murder or cries of rape.
Not the bombing of missiles falling on war-torn streets.
Not the staccato shots of a lone gunman firing upon innocent children.
Nothing rings louder than the heavenly chorus.
It it simply that our hearts have grown hard of hearing. Akin to the words of an online definition for “hard of hearing” – Many hard of hearing people don’t know that they have a hearing loss. Some simply deny it, even though they may know that their hearing is diminished.
Some simply deny it; others simply choose not to listen…
Still through the cloven skies they come,
Love’s banner all unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
Over all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
Old echoes plaintive ring,
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-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.
Some of us who “hear not” ignore the angelic melody because we are too busy remaining at war with each other, or perhaps we are simply striving within ourselves. Floundering under the weight of “two thousand years of wrong,” it seems as if the angels’ voices have been silenced. Yet the melody is sustaining still.
Today, I invite you to read the rest of these ancient words with me. May we quiet our hearts to listen and soak in the love song of heaven as its refrain drifts across the ages. From the midnight clear of our Savior’s birth to the roiling chaos of a world rebelling against its Creator, may we “hush the noise” and turn our hearts to hear the message yet again
…of peace on the earth, good will to men. From heaven’s all-gracious King.
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 give back the song
Which now the angels sing.