Christmas Music from the Church of the Two Holy Heresies, Part 1

The Aardvarks are indebted to the late Rev. Suzanne Meyer, who preached a Christmas message urging us not to stand around at Christmas time like so many Scrooges, with arms crossed and scowls upon our faces, but instead to get out there and belt out those Christmas carols.

So let me share with you some Christmas music from our religious heritage, beginning with It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

It was the year 1849. Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears, Harvard Divinity School graduate, abolitionist, and Unitarian minister to a small Massachusetts congregation, was suffering from depression. He may have had some personal issues to be depressed about, but his mental issues were exacerbated by his grief over the Mexican-American War—which threatened to extend the territorial reach of slavery in the United States—and by the violent reaction to the European revolutions of 1848.

I feel his pain.

Rev. Sears needed a little Christmas, right this very minute.

His words urge listeners to raise their sights from this world of strife, war, and evil, and to listen to the message of peace on earth, good will to men. His original text makes no mention of Jesus or the nativity—only the message of peace itself. Verses are often omitted when the song is sung, and words are frequently changed. To get the message, you need to hear all five verses.

Here is the original, as Rev. Sears wrote it in 1849:

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.

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 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 give back the song

Which now the angels sing.