This year, though I won’t be doing my daily Advent music blog, I will be focusing on songs of the season when I do write. And I am beginning with the hymn that our congregation here in Central PA is using as our theme for the whole of the seasons of Advent-Christmastide.
So, once upon a time, in the bleak midwinter of Massachusetts, there lived a Unitarian pastor who was wary and worn from the strains of this world. The year was 1849. The Mexican-American War had ended a year before. The European continent was rife with political upheaval. These United States were headed for a war of our own. And Pastor Edmund Sears took the strife to heart, suffering a melancholic breakdown in the midst of his ministry.
Nevertheless, a dear friend and fellow Pastor William Parsons Lunt asked Sears to help him with a poem about the Nativity as Christmas approached that year. Something to offer to his Sunday School classes. So Sears wrote this beloved carol and one of Felix Mendelssohn’s students set it to music, a tune entitled “Carol,” a year later.
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, goodwill to men, from heaven’s all-gracious King. The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.
The verses focus not on Bethlehem, but instead on the arrival of Christ-child into a world that continues to be filled with wrongs, strains, and strife. And yet, the millennia-old promise still rings true: 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: Oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!