STLT#244, It Came upon the Midnight Clear

I need to begin by noting with sadness that Jim Key, former moderator of the UUA Board of Trustees, who resigned his position a few weeks ago due to health issues, has passed away. I note it because what was going to be a righteous “we actually do rock” declaration now seems frivolous and less important today.

I know that life does not stop when someone dies. I know that the work must continue, especially when that someone has been a champion of equal rights. But while life does not stop, it often must pause. And so we pause today for Jim Key, and send prayers of comfort and love to his family and close friends.

As I am not necessarily feeling the impetus to write much, I will instead say simply that it’s nice when a famous song is written by one of ours (Unitarian minister Edmund Hamilton Sears)…. and because of that, the lyrics are nearly intact (just the “good will to men” wisely changed to “to all good will”).

Here are the lyrics, and then instead of typing what Jacqui James wrote about the carol (which was to be the impetus for my cheering declaration), I’ll share a screenshot and link to the source.

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, to all good will, from heaven the news we bring.”
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 blessed angels sing.

But with the woes of war and strife the world has suffered long;
beneath the angel-strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
and we who fight the wars hear not the love song which they bring.
O hush the noise of battle strife, 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.

I should note one more thing, and that’s the first line. I always sang it as a kid as “it came upon A midnight clear” but the original is “THE midnight clear.” Interesting semantic difference there.

Anyway, here’s the informative snippet from Between the Lines – a fascinating insight into both the lyrics and tune:

3 responses to “STLT#244, It Came upon the Midnight Clear”

  1. I once read a brilliant Christmas Eve sermon by Forrest Church delving into the semantic difference between “Peace on earth good will to men,” and “Peace on earth to men of good will,” (which is another common translation). It boiled down to “God wills good to everyone” versus “God is on our side.” An excellent homily for a time of war (and when is not a time of war?)

  2. Instead of “we rock,” you’ve given us an example of UUs at our best. Sears’s song seems like a very appropriate memorial to Jim, who led us so well (as far as I, far from the boardroom, can judge) to rise to a moral challenge.

  3. Here’s the stanzay the Hymnal Commission left out (maybe just to save time?)

    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;
    Oh rest beside the weary road
    And hear the angels sing.

    But the website I looked that up on (so that I wouldn’t have to go get my red hymnal and type it in) left out the “two thousand years of wrong” stanza. I have notice that most non uu versions of this hymn leave out that stanza, which to me is the crux of the whole hymn. Do all the Trinitarians 🙂 believe that sin and strife disappeared when Jesus lived?

    Also, can I nominate The Rebel Jesus for the next hymnal?

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