Friday, December 23, 2011

♬ Peace on Earth, Good Will to All ♬

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!
Edmund Sears, Unitarian parish minister (1810-1876), in "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" has been a favourite carol through Christmases past, yet I just learned that the carol's third and fourth stanzas are often omitted, particularly by the Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican churches.

Questioning what our church council authorizes, I checked out the United Church of Canada's hymnals on Dad's desk. The Hymnary, published in 1930, posts all five stanzas of Edmund Sears' original composition written in 1849; but something happened between 1930 and 1971 when The Hymn Book was published because the fourth stanza describing the suffering of personal hardship is absent. I suspect this lacuna results from negotiations between the United and Anglican Churches of Canada that co-published The Hymn Book.

Tomorrow night at church, I will check out Voices United, our current hymnal published in 1996, to see if the fourth stanza has returned. I hope so because, to my humble thinking, both stanzas are meaningful to our present world full of conflict and economic hardship and they need to be sung to imprint on our hearts the messages of peace and hope, which we can all help build.

May we hear the love song which angels sing.
May peace and hope fill our hearts.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


I could not find a complete rendition of the carol, as Sears wrote it, on YouTube but I did find the incomparable Mahalia Jackson ringing out the angels' song:


It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Original lyrics by Edmund Sears (1849)
It came upon a 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 bless├Ęd 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.
This video provides a history of the writing of the carol:



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