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It Came upon the Midnight Clear

1    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 all,
    from heav'n's all-gracious king."
    The world in solemn stillness lay
    to hear the angels sing.

2    Still through the cloven skies they come
    with peaceful wings unfurled,
    and still their heav'nly music floats
    o'er all the weary world.
    Above its sad and lowly plains
    they bend on hov'ring wing,
    and ever o'er its babel sounds
    the blessed angels sing.

3    And you, 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!

4    For lo! The days are hast'ning on,
    by prophets seen of old,
    when with the ever-circling years
    shall come the time foretold,
    when peace shall over all the earth
    its ancient splendors fling,
    and all the world give back the song
    which now the angels sing.

Text: Edmund H. Sears, 1810-1876
This is one of my favorite Christmas hymns. It’s not quite as joyful and exciting as the more well-known carols, but I think that’s why I like it; it’s quiet and beautiful and a little bit more understated in its message of the good news. I would especially recommend listening to the Frank Sinatra version. It reminds me of that first real heavy snow that Juneau gets, where the flakes are falling fast and thick illuminated by streetlamps in the darkness, and the whole world seems to be hushed, quieted under this blanket of stillness. I love that first snow and the kind of joyful peace it brings. For a second you aren’t worrying about having to shovel out the driveway in the morning or how terrible the roads are going to be or if your car is even going to start; you’re just watching the snow fall in the still and cozy darkness.

I think that’s what this hymn is all about, and I think it offers a message that feels especially appropriate this Christmas. We are indeed a “weary world” that yearns for peace. Violence and suffering seem to increasingly characterize the “sad and lowly plains” of our nation and our world. This hymn speaks to us in the midst of that. It calls out to you, “beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow:” and invites us to look now for Christ’s coming in the stillness of a winter night. The coming of our Savior is not a loud exuberant celebration in this hymn. Instead, just like that first snow, it offers us a moment of peace, stillness, and quiet in the midst of our busyness, worries, burdens, and sorrows. 

Take a deep breath, and take a few moments of silence. What is making you weary right now and where are you finding moments of peace or relief?

God of peace, help us to appreciate stillness this Christmas. Reach out to us in the midst of our weariness and quiet our worries and woes. Help us to be sources of comfort for those who feel crushed under life’s load and agents of peace in a world experiencing so much conflict. Amen.


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