At this time of year, we'll hear the popular Christmas carol, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. The first verse gives a basic—though not necessarily accurate—account of the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth.
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.
The original poem was written back in December of 1849 by Edmund Sears, a Unitarian minister from Massachusetts. His wording is lovely and touching, seeking to convey in poetic prose the story we find in Luke, chapter 2. In truth, the exact time of the angel’s appearance is not known, though the account says it was at night. (v. 8) The atmospheric conditions are not given, so we must speculate if it was a “clear” night. Also, nowhere in the “nativity” stories are we told the angels “sang” their message to the shepherds, nor are there any biblical references about them playing the harp. We’ll call this “literary license.” Regardless, it’s exceptional imagery and based on the song’s popularity, an enduring message.
According to the poem’s author, when the angels appeared and sang their “good news of great joy,” it was a clear night. The implication being there was little to obscure the messengers nor the message they came to bring.
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people…Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." (Luke 2: 10, 14 NASB)
I am not naïve, and admit there are many competing voices during this time of year.
It’s difficult to hear anything over the commotion.
But we cannot...we must not...let that noise drown out the clarity of the simple angel’s song.
And let me make something....well, clear. It's not just the crass commercialism surrounding the holiday that overpowers that message. Too often, it's those within my own faith whose shrill shouting mask the simplicity of that Bethlehem message.
In the last verse of the poem, the writer envisions a day when “the whole world” will “send back the song which now the angels sing.”
Today, we are the angels!
We are the ones who “sing” this timeless, eternal announcement.
- We proclaim Good News that God is pleased with us by treating one another with respect and compassion.
- We affirm the dignity of “all the people” by working for inclusion, justice and equality. Discrimination, oppression, bigotry...these are not consistent with our song.
- We put aside the fear that some might not use the “correct” Christmas greeting, or that Christ is somehow being stolen from the season. We don’t own the holiday. In fact, most of our traditions were “borrowed” from other observances, many that have nothing to do with the Christian faith. Advent is about Jesus; Christmas can be about many things.
- We personify the peace of the season, avoiding any concern (or complaints) over a non-existent “war on Christmas.”
- We ring in the celebration of this holiday with joy, not forgetting the clear message of Love, lest we become the deafening clamor of “clanging cymbals.” (cf: I Corinthians 13:1)
The carol tells us the Christmas message came to us...clear and unobstructed.
For heaven’s sake, let’s not be part of the noise that distracts from the simple message of love, peace, joy, hope and Good News.
Let’s work to sing it as clear as that first midnight.