2011: Is It Clear? -- Thinking About What We Sing About At Christmas
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Is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear Indeed Clear? -- Thinking About What We Sing About at Christmas

Ah Christmas carols…we sing them over and over for a week or so in December and then they’re relegated to the back of the play cycle for the next 11 months.  Some of them we know off by heart, while with others we are less familiar.  Some of us love carols.  Some barely tolerate them. 

 Whatever your feelings about these songs, it’s good to pause and reflect on the message they carry.   Familiarity doesn’t always allow that we know what these songs mean – and in writing this, I am referring mainly to the traditional songs of Christmas.  There is a rich history in many of the carols.  A number of them were written by great theologians and ministers of their time.  Due to the period, comprehending the verses can be a bit reminiscent of high school English class as we dissect the old English usage of words and verse.

 One carol that has stuck itself in my consciousness over the last few years is the lesser known song called It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.  This song gave me pause a few years ago when I was working on a Christmas production.  I felt it had a different timbre, and carried a message unique to many of the standard carols, leading me to examine it further.

 Upon investigation I found that this song was written in the decade preceding America’s civil war by a minister in Massachusetts.  While writing his sermon for Christmas Eve, Dr Sears’ heart was very heavy regarding the raging debate about slavery and the gross poverty he observed in his community.  While struggling to find words to inspire his congregation (and himself), Sears reflected on the words spoken by the angels to the shepherds in the fields found in Luke chapter two.  Thus inspired, he penned a poem he named “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” and using another poem he’d written years before, Sears challenged his hearers that while celebrating the season of joy, to remember “to reach out to the poor, to address the nation’s social ills, and to consider what they could do as individuals to best reflect the spirit of Christ in their daily lives.”[1]

 Though written over 160 years ago, this message is still relevant and necessary.  In our modern society which prides itself on great advancements, we still face issues of poverty and homelessness, abuse and slavery, displacement, loneliness, and disease.   It’s good to be mindful that though we may celebrate Christmas surrounded by loving family and friends, good food and generous gifts, there are many for whom Christmas brings another day of struggle, great loneliness and even more heart-break than any of the other 364 days of the year.

 This carol ends with a triumphal reminder of the love and reign of Christ and the time to come when a new heaven and a new earth will be established.  The words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘joy’ and ‘hope’ are the themes of Christmas.  Charity and giving are too.  Over 2000 years ago, Jesus came to be a bringer of peace and hope to a world that was groaning.  As His hands and feet in our current day, we have been charged as His ambassadors to share Jesus’ message and to disseminate those precious gifts of peace, love, joy, hope and charity that a needy world is crying out for.  The challenge which we all face is doing this not only in word or intent, but in practical and meaningful ways – at Christmas time, and throughout the year as well.

 Time has not altered the Messiah’s message, nor diminished its need and importance in our lives and those around about us.  This Christmas, as you sing carols, sing intelligently.  Sing cognizant of the inherent gospel message.  Sing with a heart heralding hope to a neighbourhood, a community, a nation, a world still in need of that loving and generous Saviour.

 


[1] Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.  Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2001.  Page 97

 

Source:  Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.  Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2001.  Page 96-101



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