It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

This is a preview of Christmas Moments II: An Epic Journey of Biblical Proportions that is now available in paperback and Kindle here.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:13-14

 

Christmas Eve night has been my favorite night of the year for as long as I can remember.

All the preparations and anticipation since the day after Thanksgiving has been building up to this one night.

Tomorrow will be Christmas morning! As a child I, of course, looked forward to the presents that Santa Claus left for us. I looked forward to seeing my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

And the feast! My grandmother and my mom always made the best Christmas meals!

As an adult, I still look forward to Christmas morning – for many of the same reasons, only this time I look forward to my children opening up their presents and the Christmas feast my wife makes. She’s improved upon the recipes of my grandmother and mother (but don’t tell them that!).

And as wonderful as Christmas morning and Christmas day is for me, Christmas Eve evening is still the best!

For the past 22 Christmases, I’ve led or preached (or both) at the worship services on Christmas Eve. The church choir and musicians are wonderful. The people who come to worship are filled with joy. And the singing by candlelight is so special!

After the midnight candlelight service, I look forward to heading home. The house is quiet as my sons and wife are usually all in bed and have been for a couple of hours. I stoke the fire in the fireplace, turn on some Christmas music, and just sit there basking in the glow.

Not only the glow of the fire, but the glow of the love of God come down at Christmas!

Many times it is a clear midnight on Christmas Eve (although sometimes it snows, and that’s special all on its own and for different reasons).

It was a midnight clear just over two thousand years ago that Jesus Christ was born. In a stable just outside of Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were the first to welcome the Messiah of God!

His birth was announced first to shepherds by a multitude of angels and then they, too, came to worship Jesus.

The Christmas Carol It Came Upon the Midnight Clear tells that story.

The composer of this Christmas carol was a Unitarian minister. Edmund Hamilton Sears wrote two Christmas hymns fifteen years apart and both in the same meter – so they could both be sung to the same tune.

It Came upon the Midnight Clear was written in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The country was filled with strife and passion, and most people understood that war was virtually inevitable.

In the earliest versions of the hymn, a fifth stanza was used that seems to have been directly influenced by the coming war.

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.

It is only the peace of God which surpasses understanding that can make a difference, at least that’s what Sears believed.

And even in the dark days leading up to the U.S. Civil War, it would be the peace of Christ that shaped people’s hopes amongst their fears.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear is usually sung to the tune called Carol and was written by Richard Storrs Willis. Willis was a pupil of Felix Mendelssohn, the Lutheran composer of Jewish descent.

However, in England and Episcopal Churches in the United States, the alternate tune Noel is used, which was written by Sir Arthur Sullivan in 1874.

No matter which tune is used, this hymn is an unusual Christmas song in that it doesn’t mention Christ, his birth, or even God!

In this sense, it is most like Joy to the Word (a paraphrase of Psalm 98, 96:11-12 and Genesis 3:17-18).

Still, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear is based on Scripture – Luke 2:13-14.

Sears was a Unitarian. And Unitarians don’t believe in the divinity of Christ. But apparently Sears did believe in the power of God’s Word to bring peace to the world.

Whether Sears intentionally tried to remove Christ from Christmas or not, it wouldn’t work.

You can no more remove Christ from Christmas than you can turkey from an American Thanksgiving dinner. While people try (to do both) it just doesn’t seem to work and it certainly doesn’t seem right.

The only way peace can truly be found is through Christ!

He is the “Prince of Peace” after all. And Jesus was born to bring peace to us.

That begs the question why there is so little peace in this world. It is important to understand that Jesus wasn’t born to necessarily bring peace among the peoples of the world.

Jesus was born to bring peace between man and God.

Our sins separate us from God. Because of sin, we are all born spiritual dead, blind, and enemies of God.

But Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to make peace between us and God. His birth, life, death, and resurrection forgives all our sins. And what was started at Jesus’ birth will ultimately be completed at his Second Coming when we will be raised to life and brought to heaven.

Because we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, we can now work to bring peace between people by sharing the Gospel of peace with them.

This is the song the angels sing!

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for bringing peace between us and God. As we look forward to celebrating your birth once again, we live in the peace that you brought so that we can love others as we await your Second Coming. In your name we pray. Amen.

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