"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is a hymn and Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. Sears' lyrics are most regularly set to "Noel," modified by Arthur Sullivan from an English melody, or to "Carol," arranged by Richard Storrs Willis. This hymn centers around the theme of angelic singers sharing the message of "Peace on earth, good will to men." Discover the lyrics and story of this renowned hymn along with video performances below!
1 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, good will to men,
from heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.
2 Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o'er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o'er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.
3 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.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
4 For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet 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 the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
The Story Behind It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Edmund Sears served the Unitarian congregation in Wayland, Massachusetts, before relocating to a bigger congregation in Lancaster. After seven years of tough work, he experienced a breakdown and returned to Wayland. He penned "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" while working as a part-time preacher in Wayland. Drafting during a period of personal sadness, and with news of the revolution in Europe and the United States' war with Mexico still in his mind, Sears characterized the world as being wicked, full of "sin and strife", and not understanding the Christmas message.
Sears is supposed to have recorded these lyrics at the behest of his friend, William Parsons Lunt, pastor of United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, for Lunt's Sunday School. One report says the hymn was first sung by locals gathered in Sears' home on Christmas Eve, however, Willis' well-known melody was not composed until the following year.