Friday, December 06, 2019

Hymn of the Week: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (adapted & expanded)

One of the most common Christmas carols (at least in the American tradition) is E. H. Sears' old hymn, "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." Nevertheless, it's a hymn that I don't tend to make much use of in my church--while it doesn't necessarily say anything wrong, it's in the odd position of being a Christmas carol that makes no reference to Jesus at all. This may be, at least in part, because Sears was a Unitarian, and thus came from a tradition that questioned the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. To rectify this, I've added a few verses and adapted a couple others so that the song clearly states what we believe about Jesus and his central role in the Christmas story. (Other writers have done this before, at least in a small way--for instance, if your hymnal has a final verse which includes the line "when the new heav'n and earth shall own the Prince of Peace their King," you're looking at a later emendation of Sears' original text.) For my version, I've kept Sears' first verse unchanged, added verses 2-4 of my own, and amended Sears' work in verses 5 and 6. (The traditional lines will appear in regular font below; mine in italics). Naturally, six verses are a bit too much for easy congregational singing, but I'll leave it to worship leaders to choose which ones to use.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

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.

And on that night in Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace was born,
The Maker of unnumbered stars awoke to Judah's morn.
The Infinite was rendered small, Almighty born a babe;
In great humility he came to bring peace and to save.

The angels' song proclaimed his birth, Desire of Ages come!
Messiah-king of David's line, the long-sought Holy One,
Fulfillment of the prophets' call and of the royal crown,
With tidings of our God-with-us the angel-song comes down.

"Let glory be to God on high!" they sang upon that night,
For God himself has come to earth to set all things at right.
As fully God and fully man, he bears the weight of sin,
And he forgives us by his grace, and welcomes sinners in.

And we, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Find rest within Christ's endless grace, and peace beneath his yoke.
Look toward the cross and empty grave, the vict'ry of our King!
Then rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.

And now the days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old,
When with the reign of Christ our Lord shall come the time foretold:
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.