We are six months, ten days and counting until Christmas, which means we are four months and fifteen days until the Christmas season begins. That’s soon enough for me to start talking about it.
I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite holiday songs while reading about the protests, rioting, violence, anger, pride, and so many other negative emotions and actions happening around the country. As Christians, it’s our calling to show the better way. It’s our mission to be a light in the darkness, to draw people to it and, thus, to Jesus. If you look around the country you see one thing above all else: People are taking sides. Everyone is either one this side of whatever argument we’re having today or they’re on that side of the argument. On social media, people stake their flags on their particular side. On 24-Hour news, people rile up their supporters in the echo chamber of their particular side. In Congress, elected officials give empty speeches wedging all the issues into a political box, either for or against their side.
There is a better way, but no one’s going to know it unless we tell it, which takes me to the song I was thinking about. It’s not a rarity either: “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is well known, but it’s also one of those songs which has a rich history that is often ignored, as well as a poignant message that is often missed.
I imagine everyone is familiar with the opening verse…
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.
It actually kind of annoys me to hear the way most music artists sing this song. They use it as an excuse to belt out high notes and make it all about them and not the lyrics. This is one song, however, that was meant to be read and contemplated more than just listened-to and wowed by the high-G or whatever.
The song wasn’t written to be a showcase for someone’s singing voice. It was written as a poem by Edmund Sears, in the aftermath of the Mex-American War and the continued tensions between North and South in the leadup to the Civil War. It’s about how sin and the ugliness of man tend to drown out the message of the Gospel.
Look at the above lyrics. That’s just the first verse but if you stop there you miss the whole story. Yes, this song is telling a story and it’s not about the birth of Jesus. I say again: This song is not about the birth of Jesus! That is to say, it’s not a song retelling the nativity account. Instead, it’s a song about how the good news of the birth (which is still good news today) is still being talked about today.
Are we listening? Does the earth hear the song the angels are singing? Are we aware that peace on earth and goodwill to men is here? Look at the next verses of the song…
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 blessèd 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.
STILL the song plays. STILL the good news is given. Even today the angels’ melody of victory sounds from Heaven to earth. Is anyone listening? The song laments “no, no one is listening anymore.”
Because of “sin and strife” and “man at war with man,” no one is listening. Everyone is too concerned with hatred and ugliness and vengeance to hear a message of peace and grace from God to man. Thus, the singer calls on the world to “hush and hear” the angels’ song.
That’s where we come in.
Our task as Christians is to shine a spotlight on the message of the Gospel. It’s to live the life, not conforming to the world, so that the world around us sees us, remarks how different we are, and inquires to learn more.
Instead of greed we must seek contentment. Instead of vengeance we must seek forgiveness. Instead of hate we must seek charity. If we do, our actions will draw the lost to Christ like moths to a flame, and little by little we can bend hearts and ears away from the noise of sin and strife and to the melodious chorus of redemption.