A Christmas Carol as Resistance Literature: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

It's the last week of Advent.

Last night we had our small group over for our annual Christmas party. After eating we gathered around our Christmas tree, kids on the floor and adults squeezed in on the couches and chairs. Ed and Jenni played their guitars and Marcia played her flute as we sang Christmas carols, the kids shouting out the song numbers from old church songbooks.

As we were singing It Came Upon the Midnight Clear I was struck by the prophetic power of the third verse:

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.
It's a stunning image. The angels appear above the shepherds and declare the birth of the Christ child with this refrain of peace on earth:
Luke 2:13-14
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
And yet, as It Came Upon a Midnight Clear recounts, since that angelic declaration of peace there has been "two thousand years of wrong." Why? Because "man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring."

We don't hear the love song.

And so the call continues to go out: "O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing."

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10 thoughts on “A Christmas Carol as Resistance Literature: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

  1. Oh my, this resonates with several truths that I have been reading, hearing, and thinking about over the past few days...  I receive a daily devotional from the Henri Nouwen Society via e-mail.  Lately, the theme has been "in the fullness of time."  More specifically, that Christ comes at just the right moment in time, and when it is revealed to our hearts, those tend to be the spiritual "mountaintop" moments, or "kairos" moments of our lives.  Also, my pastor (a great, wise man) spoke yesterday of Christ coming to those who have need.  For those who are already full (or believe that to be their condition), Christ-mas will never come.  God shows up, and we are able to perceive His Presence, when our hearts are in a state of poverty and humility...  Lastly, my pastor recommended his favorite poet, Mattie Stepanek.  Here is a poem of his that I found on the Net relating to listening and hearing:

    Making Real Sense of the Senses

    Our eyes are for looking at things,
    But they are also for crying
    When we are very happy or very sad.
    Our eyes are for listening.
    But so are our hearts.
    Our noses are for smelling food
    But also the wind and the grass and
    If we try very hard, butterflies.
    Our hands are for feeling.
    But also for hugging and touching so gently.
    Our mouths and tongues are for tasting.
    But also for saying words, like
    "I love you," and
    "Thank you God, for all of these things."

    Excerpted from Heartsongs, by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, Copyright © Sept. 2001. Published by VSP Books/Hyperion.

    God's blessings to you, Dr. Beck, and fellow ET regulars, as we wait expectantly, with hope, to receive Christ anew.  ~Peace~

  2. Richard,

    Don't know whether you  have thought of your writing as "spiritual" or "Christian formation" but it has been achieving that in my life for over 5 years now.  Just wanted to take this day and season to say thanks.  Be blessed!

  3. Thank-you Richard.  Amy and I enjoyed listening to Canon Giles Fraser on the radio this morning.  He's the man who resigned his post at St Paul's Cathedral, London and sided with the anti-capitalist protesters camping outside his church.  He sees in our modern re-telling of the Christmas story a piece of political propaganda started by Constantine and continued by politicans ever since - designed to eviscerate the Christian gospel of it's political punch.  

    See http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018g26v for a brief summary, which includesthese words:

    "He argues that by focusing on the birth of Christ, and on his death, Constantine pushed the radical Christ of the early church to the margins of Christianity and replaced him with an infinitely more accommodating religion of the baby and the cross, so the bit in the middle - the radical, questioning life of Christ - was skimmed over.

    By marginalising Christ's teachings about poverty, humility, and above all peace, Constantine was able to take a religion founded in pacifism and use it for his military machine in pursuit of a 'just war' - something political leaders have been doing ever since."

    For anyone interested, he's broadcasting his thesis on Christmas day at 4.30 on the UK's Radio 4.

  4. In our NashVegas prison group we discussed O Holy Night & it's powerful liberatin' word: 
    Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, With all our hearts we praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, His power and glory ever more proclaim! His power and glory ever more proclaim!
    'twas a powerful hymn to be sining inside the planation.

    -Ben Oliver, a student of Richard Goode

  5. Andrew, so glad you mentioned Giles's bit on Andrew Marr today. My husband and I heard it separately today at our different places of work and it was our first topic of discussion when we got home tonight. I thought of it immediately when reading Richard's thoughts here. AND not only did he have a go at Constantine, he's also, as one of the Guardian's Christmas carol judges, had a good go yesterday at Cliff RIchard, and was mentioned in David Edgar's piece skewering Cameron's co-opting the Bible for political purposes. Like you, just thought Richard and some of his readers would appreciate the links below:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/18/cant-allow-bible-hijacked-politics?INTCMP=SRCH http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/dec/18/whats-the-best-christmas-song?INTCMP=SRCH
    On another 'note', did you look at the melody of the carol Richard posted about? I've played 'It came upon a midnight clear' so many times this month for various advent and carol services that I almost forgot the American tune I grew up with. Thanks for the melodic reminder, Richard! 

  6. I'm glad you put this up - I used it as the opening carol for an 'alternative' carol service, as it was one of the few traditional ones that contained the relevant message (details here: http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/2011/12/alternative-carol-service.html )

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