‘Tis the season for singing! I like and listen to a lot of new music, but when it comes to Christmas, there’s something about traditional carols that resonate with my soul. The whole story of Christmas comes from the ancient text of scripture, so in this case, it seems to me that old is good.
I sing with the Voices of Colleton Community Choir. We started practicing in August for the two presentations that were offered the first week in December. When you prepare for the weekly rehearsals and listen to recordings of the music throughout the week, you know how it’s supposed to sound. Sometimes in rehearsals, it just doesn’t make it up to the “how it’s supposed to sound” standard. The basses and tenors drag the tempo, the high sopranos are flat, and everything else is the alto’s fault. In a full program of nine or ten songs, there always seems to be one particular song that trips us up. This year’s program was no different.
The night of the first performance arrived. Before it began, I took my place in the center of the choir loft among the 65 other singers. I silently prayed that no matter what we sang, especially on that troublesome song, that the audience would hear only the voices of angels. Not that our voices would sound like angels, but that actual angel voices would be joining us, singing over and above us. Certainly their voices would get it right. They have been singing God’s praises longer than anyone.
Angel voices have been heard on earth by human ears before. The shepherds heard an angel voice say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Several traditional carols mention angels singing in the lyrics.
“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King.’”
“Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King; Christ our Savior is born.”
The words of those carols are centered on the night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. But what about today? Can you and I still hear angel voices?
Edmund Sears must have wondered the same thing. In 1849, he penned the words to a poem that became “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” It’s a Christmas carol about angels singing, but not solely about the first Christmas night when Jesus was born. Most of it focuses on the era in which it was written.
We rarely ever sing them today, but based on the second, third, and fourth verses, Mr. Sears must have longed to hear the angels singing:
“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.
“All 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.
“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 give back the song which now the angels sing.”
When these words were written 167 years ago, America had been at war with Mexico. Zachary Taylor’s heroic efforts in that conflict catapulted him reluctantly into the presidency. There was a lot of noise in 1849 that distracted the world from the voices of angels.
Simply update the usage of the words “ye” and “lo” in those verses and you might think they were written about 2016. We’ve suffered long this election year — we’re still at war with each other about rights, the load of healthcare and education can be crushing. There have been many large decibel words spewed in 2016.
I don’t think the angels have ever stopped singing. I think they’ve been singing since before Jesus was born. We’re so busy making noise ourselves that we miss it.
As the Voices of Colleton Community Choir sang about the good news of great joy, I tried to listen for the angel voices I’d prayed for. I realized that angels did not join us in singing. What really happened was that we joined the angels in their glorious song of old. We proclaimed with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The message that came clear that night: Peace on the earth and good will to men will come from heaven’s all gracious King.
This was originally posted December 18, 2016 on www.walterborolive.com