Behind the Carols: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

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 earth, goodwill to men, from heaven’s all-gracious King.” . . . the  beginning of the song at least is familiar to us, but there is a 3rd verse to this Christmas carol that doesn’t usually get printed: 

“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’s a bold move for a Christmas carol, to so explicitly mention what is wrong with today, and in some ways, a depressing move. Two thousand years after the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years after the angels sung announcing God’s graceful move of having His Son born in a manger in Bethlehem, what is different? Not much. Two thousand years of wrong, of men at war with men, of humans too involved with their own noise to hear the angels sing.

It’s enough to make you ask, what DID come those two thousand years ago? Clearly it wasn’t a philosophical or moral system that would become the civilizing of humanity. It wasn’t an alteration of the human fabric that forced our attention on God. It wasn’t the immediate relief from all of our problems. But it was a change, an alteration, a small little crack in the edifice of human history, a crack that will crumble the entire wall.

What happened in that stable in Bethlehem could have been ignored. In fact, it was ignored by most of the people around it, save a few blue collar agriculturists and some superstitious mystics from afar. In fact, it IS ignored by many people even today as we go about our hustle and bustle, too busy with questions of when Amazon can ship and if we really have to be civil to that family member. But the crack is there, the crack through which you can hear the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing.

So this Christmas, let us take a lesson from this lost verse of this familiar carol. “Hush the noise, listen to the angels sing.” What you find in the quiet might just make your Christmas.

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