It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, but we were not listening

Carol singing is popular this time of year.  Maybe door-to-door caroling not so much, but the familiar tunes echo through every store, mall and gathering place.  Christmas pageants are filled with them.  They’re on the radio nonstop.  Even we Advent observers are itching to sing them, and do.  There is one in particular that haunts me each Christmas season because it speaks such an uncomfortable truth.  If I am ever forced to live on a desert isle with only one Christmas carol, this would be it. 
It Came upon the Midnight Clear
Edmund Sears (1810-1876)
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 all gracious King.  The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.
Still though 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 the tidings which they bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.
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 human kind 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 with now the angles sing.

2 thoughts on “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, but we were not listening”

  1. \”Peace on the earth, good will to men, from Heaven's all-gracious King…\” A classic textual problem from the Greek of Luke's Gospel. This author used the KJV version, of course, as most did in 19th C. England. Had he used the Roman Catholic Douay version, as most English and Irish Catholics did, the verse says \”Peace on earth to men of good will\”! From St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate version. The English translators of King James' new version of 1611 thought that they were being very modern to use the new Greek New Testament of the (Catholic!!) scholar Erasmus of 1516, who had used different manucripts, both more recent, and unhappily, inferior to those of St. Jerome, as it turned out. The difference here turned on one Greek letter, the final sigma of the crucial word eudokia or eudokias: which both rendered as \”good will\”, but Catholics \”of good will\”. The Protestant version wishes \”peace on earth\” to men(i.e. all humans),while the Catholic is more exclusive, to just humans of good will-not all the mean ones! The modern translators of the New Revised Standard Version decided to use the older and better manscripts such as St.Jerome had used, with the final sigma on the crucial word-eudokias, but also decided that \”good will\” was not really an accurate meaning of the Greek word in this context. It was still exclusive, but not with the character of humans concerned, but with God's intention: \”peace among those whom he favors!\” Removing, (by current fashion!) the word \”men\” that the preceding version, the Revised Standard had had, \”peace among men with whom he is pleased.\” As the Calvinists, in whose number many of the King James translators had been, would prefer, \”Peace to God's Elect!\” But the Greek MS version those Calvinists had used had made them write \”Peace on earth, good will to (all) men\”! Dr. B

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