When I was in my teens, several things influenced and shaped my life. This carol was one of them. The angels were announcing the beginning of a new era which would affect every man, woman and child. The world would never be the same again!
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 the earth, goodwill to men
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
The language is somewhat poetic but speaks of an event so significant that the angels just had to announce the birth of Jesus, the son of God. But the priests in the temple didn’t hear the angels. Herod in his palace didn’t hear them. Only some simple shepherds heard the news, and heard the angels praising God that this event would have such a momentous effect which would eventually result in a peaceful world.
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.
From verse 2 till verse 5 the carol takes on a more negative tone. The writer was a man well aware of the realism of trouble in the world and yet finally optimistic about the future. You can really feel his pain as he talks of a ‘weary’ world, full of ‘sad and lowly plains’.
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 and cease your strife,
And hear the angels sing.
Verses 3 and 4 are often omitted by hymn books seeking a version of Christmas which is merry and full of ‘jingle bells’. ‘Sin’ and “strife’ are not popular words: neither is the idea of ‘2000 years of wrong’. I have difficulty with my emotions vocalising these words. I share the pain of the hymn writer (and God too) as he writes about centuries of sin, suffering and war. Of mankind, so engaged with noise and strife that they cannot hear the good news proclaimed by the angels.
And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
The appeal then goes out to individuals, many of them suffering, to rest and have their eyes and ears opened – to see that there is hope for the future. We, today, can look for, and see, a better future and a better world. Like Abraham we can ‘look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God‘.
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
God’s plan for this world is a glorious plan. Implementation started with the angels announcing the birth of Jesus, and will not be complete until ‘the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea’.
This plan was revealed to the prophets and forms an ‘amen’ in our hearts when he opens our ears and eyes. Does your heart yearn for an end to suffering and strife? The kingdom of God, established by Jesus is growing in this world. The time will come when the rule of God, and his son Jesus, will be complete.
I must admit that I long for a day when THE WHOLE WORLD joins with me, and the angels, in that song, which began so many years ago. Me? Living in a dream word? A hopeless optimist? NO! I have caught a glimpse of what the author was writing about, and I wish to shout it from the rooftops.
- Songs of Christmas – Day 8 (steakandabible.com)