Editor’s Note: It’s been said that Christmas is one of the few holidays that has its own “soundtrack.” The Times-Gazette today presents part six of a special 12-part series entitled “The 12 Carols of Christmas” that will appear daily through Christmas Eve, relating the stories behind some of the best-loved sacred songs of the season.
American minister and author Edmund Sears was 24 years old in 1843 when he composed a Christmas carol, entitled “Calm on the Listening Ear,” based on the song sung by the angels in the second chapter of the gospel of Luke.
The song was very similar to the carol Sears would write approximately five years later: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” Robert Morgan wrote in his book “Then Sings My Soul.” “Calm on the Listening Ear” had the same meter and theme and could be sung to the same tune.
In 1849, Sears composed “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” which Morgan described as an unusual carol as there is no mention of Christ, the newborn baby or of Jesus’ mission to mankind.
The author’s only focus, Morgan wrote, was the angelic request for peace on earth, an unlikely task due to the times the carol was written in.
The last stanza in Sears’ Christmas carol is noticeably absent from most hymnals but reflected his concern for the tensions he saw emerging on the world stage, particularly in the United States.
Sears wrote the hymn in a time that preceded the American Civil War when there was tension over the slavery question; the Industrial Revolution was also transforming the northern states, and “49ers” were making a frantic rush to get rich with all the gold claimed to have been discovered in California, Kenneth Osbeck noted in his book, “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions.”
The final stanza of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” went:
“Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world hath 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 sing;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing!”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.