Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

When the current version of the Episcopal hymnal was about to be published, our Bishop called all lay leaders to his annual Labor Day Weekend conference -- Friday dinner through Sunday lunch.  We moaned every year about giving up the entire holiday weekend, but always came away enriched with lessons that would stick in our minds and hearts.  That year the workshop leader was a member of the Commission which selected what would be included in and what would be omitted from the new hymnal. 

Dr. Mealy pointed out that most renditions of this particular hymn omit the 3rd verse -- and called it to our attention.  This is NOT a pretty little piece of musical fluff.   It is a dramatic challenge to our Christian faith, a call to action, a piece of protest music.  My politically liberal soul can still see this mild little man in that rural mountain chapel, reading these words in his powerful voice, then over the next hour leading us through the two hymn tunes and suggesting how each melody sets a different mood, carries the message in a different way.  "Use all the verses." he told us.  "Always."

Here are verses 3 and 4.   Read it as poetry.  Then sing it, aloud or in your mind.  What do you hear?

           Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long,
           beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
           and warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring. 
          O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing!

          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 all the world give back the song which now the angels sing.
                                                                    [Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876)]

Hush the noise.  Cease the strife.  Hear the song of the angels.  Give back the song....

May your Christmas be blessed. 
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