Monday, December 21, 2015

It came upon the midnight clear

Christmas is traditionally a season of joy, which we are constantly reminded of by several dozen well known songs that we hear every year - over and over again.

One of the songs that many people call their favorite is a poem that was first published in the Christian Register in Boston on December 29, 1849. It was composed by a Unitarian minister named Edmund Sears, not long after he suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork.

The year before he wrote the song, a “people’s revolution” racked Europe, fueled by some of the same issues that caused the Arab Spring revolution in 2011. Early in the same year (1848) the United States concluded its war with Mexico, which greatly expanded the borders of the United States.

Due to his personal problems, as well as his concerns about he felt was general chaos in the world, Edmund Sears was a very melancholy man, since he felt that the world was no longer hearing the Christmas message.

Over the years, the song has been performed by hundreds of performers, and it’s been paired with two different melodies, either “Carol” in the Untied States or “Noel” in the United Kingdom. One of my favorites is the version that was performed by Bing Crosby many years ago:

let’s listen to Bing again

If you’ve ever watched “The Newsroom”, starring Jeff Daniels (as Will McAvoy) you may remember his rant where he reminds us that America only leads the world in 3 areas - number of incarcerated citizens per capita, defense spending, and number of adults who believe that angels are real.

As usual, “Will McAvoy” is right on the money, since a recent Associated Press poll found that 77 percent of the adults in our country believe that angels are real. Surprisingly, even a healthy percentage of the people who don’t consider themselves religious still believe that angels are real.

Despite his melancholy, Edmund Sears ended his poem on a note of optimism, as evidenced by the last paragraph in the original version:

For Lo! , the days are hastening on

By prophet bards foretold

When with the ever-encircling years

Comes round the age of gold

When peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendors fling

And the whole world give back the song

Which now the angels sing

Edmund Sears was absolutely correct in his belief that the world is no longer hearing the Christmas message. Most of us have long felt that Christmas has been too focused on the commercial side of the holiday, and we look with horror at the ever expanding “Black Friday” shopping hours. For once, let’s tune out all the holiday madness, and let’s just listen to the angels sing.

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