December 15, 2022

Christmas and Advent Hymns and their Story

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

Written in 1849 by Edmund H. Sears [1810-1876], this hymn has become one of the most beloved of the Christmas season. In the Lutheran Service Book, the text focuses on the song the angels sing as they joyously announce the birth of Jesus Christ. “Peace on earth, goodwill to all” is an allusion to Luke 2:14; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” This song of the angels is familiar to us from our worship, where we sing the Gloria in Excelsis in our worship Liturgy; “Glory be to God on High; and on earth peace, good-will toward men….. “
This has a double focus: in the highest heavens there is a resounding glorious praise to God for his generous gift of a Savior; on earth there is peace for people on whom His favor rests.
The “babel sounds” in verse 2 refer to Genesis 11, where the Lord confused the languages of the earth. The angels sing their song to all the people who have been dispersed throughout the world. Verse 4 echoes God’s promise of peace that is to come through Christ, as prophesied in Isaiah 9:6-7; “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

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 all, from heav’n’s all-gracious king.”
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.

LSB 366

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