Spoiler alert: this may well indeed wreck your caroling experience. But it might help it – in the long run.
It’s always bothered me that “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” never mentions sin, Jesus, the cross, or redemption. A little background:
The original verses (there are a total of 5) were penned by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1820-1876). A graduate of Harvard Divinity school, Sears served as a Unitarian minister throughout Massachusetts. While orthodox in his confession, his most renowned hymn has always left me a little dry.
This criticism isn’t new. The British carol scholar Erik Routley wrote that “in its original form, the hymn is little more than an ethical song, extolling the worth and splendour of peace among men.”
Don’t get me wrong: Not every Christmas carol needs to recant the theological veracity of Romans in metered poetry, but it seems like a missed opportunity. Christmas is a time for clarity. But not the militant, wave-a-flag-in-your-face kind of clarity. Not the kind that gets unreasonably offended when a well-intentioned grocery clerk wishes you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” It’s a soft clarity – a steady clarity. The kind of clarity that uses the front door, and knocks gently – but firmly.
In light of that, I humbly submit my addition:
A painful cross awaits this child
who now in a manger sleeps
For all who know the stain of sin
and dwell in darkness deep
Look now, our God has made a way
His perfect salvation to bring
Redemption’s plan provides our peace
And lifts our souls to sing.
(Thanks Eddie – can I call you Eddie? – for allowing me to impose. Incidentally, I’m looking forward to chatting it up some day.)