It Came Upon the Midnight Clear 

Written by Dr. Edmund Sears, 1849

Music composed by Richard Storrs Willis

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 heavens all gracious King!"

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.

 

 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.

 

O 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 prophets seen of old,

When with the ever-circling years

Shall come the time foretold,

When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace, their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, also rendered It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, was written by a Unitarian minister, in 1849. Although the Unitarian church was known for its stance against the divinity of Jesus, Dr. Sears believed that Jesus was the Son of God and that He died on the cross for the sins of the world.  He desired to motivate his congregation to feel moved to action to help those around them. As he worked in the slums and witnessed the poverty and darkness of the world around him, he hoped to inspire them with the story of the Light of the world. However, it wasn't until several years later that it was discovered by a composer and graduate of Yale. He added different music, from an early carol he'd composed which was simply entitled Carol. It is this tune that is most commonly heard in the US as the accompaniment to Sears' lyrics.

Composed by Alfred Shaddick Burt, 1954

Lyrics by Wilha Hutson

Caroling, caroling, now we go
Christmas bells are ringing
Caroling, caroling thru the snow
Christmas bells are ringing

Joyous voices sweet and clear
Sing the sad of heart to cheer
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing

Caroling, caroling thru the town
Christmas bells are ringing
Caroling, caroling up and down
Christmas bells are ringing
Mark ye well the song we sing
Gladsome tidings now we bring
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing!

Caroling, caroling, near and far
Christmas bells are ringing
Following, following yonder star
Christmas bells are ringing
Sing we all this happy morn
"Lo, the King of heav'n is born!"
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing

Written by Robert MacGimsey, 1934 

(Gladys Knight version)

Sweet little Jesus Boy

They made You be born in a manger.

Sweet little Holy Child,

Didn't know who You were.

 

Didn't know You come to save us, Lord;

To take our sins away.

Our eyes was blind,

We couldn't see,

We didn't know who You were.

 

You have told us how,

We are trying.

Master, you have shown us how

Even when you were dying.

 

Just seems like we can’t do right,

Look how we treated you.

But please, Sir, forgive us, Lord,

We didn't know it was You.

 

Sweet little Jesus Boy

Born a long time ago

Sweet little Holy Child

We didn't know who You were

Alfred Burt was an American jazz musician. Every year his father Rev. Bates Burt would compose a Christmas carol for his family Christmas card. He would send the cards out much as we do a family newsletter. One year, Bates asked his son Alfred to carry on the tradition by composing the music to the words he had already written. From then on, Alfred would compose the family carol, creating fifteen carols between 1942 and 1954. Only one of the songs had ever been heard outside his family at the time of his death. This song was penned by Burt a few months before his death as he rushed to complete all the songs for a Christmas album. He did indeed complete them by Christmas 1953, but he would succumb to lung cancer two months later. Twelve of his songs were produced on a 10-inch vinyl in time for the1954 holiday season.

Robert MacGimsey was an American composer. People often assume that he was African-American, though he was not. Robert grew up in Pineville, Louisiana, where he spent a great deal of his time in the company of African-Americans. That influence can be seen in this hit song, written in the style of the African-American spiritual. Similarly, it is recognizable in another of his hit songs, Shadrack which was recorded by Louis Armstrong and became a hit for Brook Benton (famous many years later for his 1970 hit Rainy Night In Georgia).

Angels We Have Heard on High

Traditional French Carol

Translated by Bishop James Chadwick (1813-1882)

Ancient hym, Author Unknown

Translated 1851

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

 

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

 

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

 

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

 

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

 

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

 

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

 

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

 

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

 

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save,

And give them victory over the grave.

 

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

 

*O come, Thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.

This is a traditional French carol called Les Anges dans nos Campagnes in French. It was translated into English by Bishop Chadwick in 1862. 'Gloria in excelsias Deo' means Glory to God in the highest. It is said that it was a Christmas Eve custom among shepherds in southern France to call to one another from hillside to hillside singing the phrase Gloria in excelsia Deo. Angels We Have Heard On High is another macaronic carol (as was In Dulci Jubilo in the week 1 Songs for Advent and Ding Dong, Merrily On High listed in week 2 Songs for Advent). As noted in week 1, a macaronic song blends Latin with another language. In this case, French was the original.

 

Not all songologists agree that this song originated in France. There is evidence that it is much older than its first written records. In 130 AD, Pope Telesphorus decreed that all churches would have a special evening service on Christmas. He also ordered that 'Gloria in excelsias Deo' be sung by the congregation after the reading of certain scripture or the conclusion of specific prayers. This practice was widely used by most churches by the end of the 3rd century. Thus, this chorus harkens back to that earlier church tradition.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of the oldest carols still sung today. The author must have had a thorough understanding of the Bible. It is the perfect Advent song, for it tells the story of the prophecies of the Messiah and their fulfillment in Jesus. During the Dark Ages, most people were illiterate. A song such as this provided poignant word pictures that illustrate the connection between the Old Testament and New Testament and how they connect to the Messiah.

 

The first line of the song is from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. The rest of verse one refers to Isaiah 61:1 which is fulfilled in Luke 4:17-20.

 

Isaiah 11 is the inspiration for the second verse. The word picture presented in verse three can be seen in Luke 1:77-79, while verse four refers to Isaiah 22:22.

 

*Selah’s version (hyperlinked in the title) does not include this verse.

from Handel's Messiah

Composed by George Fredric Handel, 1741

scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 

The kingdom of this world

Is become the kingdom of our Lord,

And of His Christ, and of His Christ;

And He shall reign for ever and ever,

For ever and ever, forever and ever,

 

King of kings, and Lord of lords,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,

And Lord of lords,

And He shall reign,

And He shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings, forever and ever,

And Lord of lords,

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 

And He shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings! and Lord of lords!

And He shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings! and Lord of lords!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Handel's Messiah is a three part oratorio taken straight from scripture, most of it from the King James Bible, with some psalms from the Book of Common Prayer. Handel used the text given to him by a wealthy patron, Charles Jennens. Messiah was originally associated with Easter and Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. However, over time it came to be linked to Christmas, especially the Hallelujah Chorus which brings to mind angels singing at Christ’s birth. The Hallelujah Chorus is actually only a small piece of a greater work.

 

Part I focuses on the Advent of our Lord, including Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, and Luke's account of the annunciation to the shepherds. Part II includes: Christ’s passion, death and resurrection; the spread of the gospel, rejection of the gospel and God’s ultimate victory, and closes with the Hallelujah Chorus. Finally, Part III deals with: the promise of eternal life, judgment day and the final victory over sin and death and Christ’s acclamation (praise and worship). Incredibly the entire oratorio was complete in just 24 days in 1741. If you own Handel’s Messiah, why not listen to it as a family?  Or sing along to just the Hallelujah Chorus?

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

English Traditional Carol, Author unknown

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Saviour

Was born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

 

From God our Heavenly Father

A blessed Angel came;

And unto certain Shepherds

Brought tidings of the same:

How that in Bethlehem was born

The Son of God by Name.

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

 

And when they came to Bethlehem

Where our dear Saviour lay,

They found Him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay;

His Mother Mary kneeling down,

Unto the Lord did pray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

 

Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface.

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

The title of this carol is somewhat odd, because of the archaic meaning of some of the words. Although we think of ‘merry’ as meaning ‘happy,’ during the time when this song was written, merry meant ‘great’ or ‘mighty.’ Also, as many of us know ‘ye’ means ‘you.’ However, rest used to mean ‘keep’ or ‘make.’ Finally, there should be a comma after Merry, which is usually missing from the title in most English language song books. Therefore, the title should be: God make you mighty, gentlemen. This brings a new meaning to ‘Merry’ Christmas doesn’t it?

 

This song was written as a reaction to church music during the fifteenth century, which was often more along the line of a funeral dirge than joyful. Also, the church songs were in Latin, so the common man could not relate to them. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen was an upbeat and lively song-- people could sing and even dance to it. This joyous song is mentioned in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in 1843.  

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