Today’s carol was first written as a poem by Edmund Sears, in 1849, at the request of his friend, William Parsons Lunt, who was pastor of the United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts. Its first public appearance was in the Christian Register in Boston on December 29, 1849. A year later, the accompanying tune was composed by Richard Storrs Willis, who studied under Felix Mendelssohn.
The thing I love about this carol is that it doesn’t stop with the first Christmas Day. It’s a very good reminder that the angels who were appointed to sing the glory of the birth of Jesus are eternally appointed to serve people. As Hebrews 1:14 reminds us, “angels are (only) servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. “(NLT)
The stanzas move chronologically and logically through the ages, from Christmas to today to the promise of heaven. While angels appear to be the focus, in reality they are simply the thread. The human condition, the need for God’s presence, and the assurance that He always is present is the true theme.
Take this one slow, one stanza at a time, and end each with a short and simple prayer of thanks.
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, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
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 over its Babel sounds
The blessed 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.
And ye, 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!
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.