Sunday 6 December 2015

Edmund Sears' "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

"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."

In 1849, Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts was discouraged about the state of the world.  Europe was on the verge of a revolution.  The United States was at war with Mexico.  And Sears was on the verge of a nervous breakdown after seven years of hard work. He poured his thoughts out on paper, composing the poem "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  The poem was published in the Christian register on December 29 of that year.  Rumour has it that the carol was performed by Sears' parishoners on Christmas Eve, but no one knows what tune they used.

Two tunes have accompanied the carol over the years.  "Carol", the American tune, was composed by Richard Storrs Willis.  "Noel", the British tune, was composed by Arthur Sullivan.  

Listen to the words the next time you sing the carol.  Sears talks about "woes of sin and strife" and "two thousand years of wrong" and "man at war with man".  It reminds me of our time:  the terror in Paris, the shootings in San Bernardino, the Syrian refugees.  Times have not changed.  But the Christmas message remains the same:  a baby changes everything.  

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