"SONG OF THE ANGELS"
"The glory of the Lord shone round about them" (Lk. 2:8-9)
INTRO.: A hymn which looks to the birth of Jesus Christ for important lessons that we can learn is "Song of the Angels." The text was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876). A Unitarian minister, Sears is primarily remembered today for having authored two songs, both related to the birth of Christ. This one is dated 1834 and first appeared in The Boston Observer. It was subseqently emended by the author and its present form appeared in The Monthly Magazine of 1874. The more famous of the two hymns, dating from around 1846 to 1849, is "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." It is interesting that both poems have exactly the same meter. Several tunes have been used with the song beginning, "Calm on the listening ear of night." Arthur Sullivan composed one (Noel) that was found in the Church Hymnal Mennonite edited in 1927 by J. D. Brunk. Another tune (Roll On or Angel’s Song) that can be used with it was composed, and the chorus added, both by Charles Edward Pollock (c. 1871-1924). I have not been able to find a date for it, but it apparently was originally intended for "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." Pollock produced some other tunes that have been used among us, such as "The Christian’s Welcome Home," "That Will Be Glory for Me," and "Above the Bright Blue." Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the Sears’s text, so far as I know, has never been in any. The tune that I have suggested appeared, with "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson.
The song tells the Biblical story of how the angels announced the birth of Christ.
I. Stanza 1 focuses upon the angels
"Calm on the listening ear of night Come heaven’s melodious strains,
While wild Judea stretches far Her silver-mantled plains.
Celestial choirs from courts above Shed sacred glories there;
And angels with their sparkling lyres Make music on the air."
A. It was night when the angels appeared to the shepherds of Bethlehem: Lk. 2:8
B. Of course, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea: Matt. 2:4-6
C. To announce this birth, an angel appeared to the shepherds: Lk. 2:9
II. Stanza 2 focuses upon the land
"The answering hills of Palestine Send back the glad reply,
And greet, from all the holy heights, The Day-Spring from on high.
O’er the blue depths of Galilee There comes a holier calm,
And Sharon waves, in solemn praise, Her silent groves of palm."
A. The land in which Christ was born was often referred to as Palestine, which is derived from the Philistines who were its earlier inhabitants: Exo. 15:14
B. The whole land was being called upon to greet the Day-Spring from on high: 2 Pet. 1:19
C. Galilee was soon to meet its Savior: Matt. 4:13-17
III. Stanza 3 focuses upon the message
"’Glory to God!’ the sounding skies Loud with their anthems ring,
‘Peace to the earth, good will to men, From heaven’s eternal King!’
Light on thy hills, Jerusalem! The Savior now is born;
More bright on Bethlehem’s joyous plains Breaks forth the glorious morn."
A. The message of the angels was glory to God with peace and good will to men of earth: Lk. 2:14
B. The basis for this message was that the Savior was born: Lk. 2:10-11
C. This message was spread on Bethlehem’s joyous plains since that is where Christ was born: Lk. 2:4-7 (the original last line read "Breaks the first Christmas morn," but this has been changed to remove a non-Biblical reference)
IV. Stanza 4 focuses upon the light
"’Glory to God!’ the lofty strain The realm of ether fills;
How sweeps the song of solem joy O’er Judah’s sacred hills!
And brightly on Moriah’s brow Crowned with her temple spires,
Which first proclaim the newborn light, Clothed with its orient fires."
A. Judah was the tribe through which the Savior, the lawgiver, was to come: Gen. 49:10
B. Moriah was one of the hills upon which Jerusalem was built where Christ would be sacrificed: 2 Chron. 3:1
C. Just as the sun rising over the east brings light, so the birth of Christ brought into the world Him who is the light of the world: Jn. 8:12
V. Stanza 5 focuses upon the application
"This day shall Christian tongues be mute, And Christian hearts be cold?
Oh, catch the anthem that from Heaven O’er Judah’s mountains rolled.
When burst upon that listening night The high and solemn lay:
‘Glory to God, on earth be peace,’ Salvation comes today!"
A. The tongues of Christians should not be mute about the Christ who was born in Bethlehem because, like the apostles, we should speak the truth that we have heard: Acts 4:20
B. Therefore, we should join with the angels in their continuing song of praise to the Lamb who was slain: Rev. 5:11-12
C. This means preaching the gospel which is God’s power unto salvation: Rom. 1:16
CONCL.: Pollock’s chorus then concludes,
"Roll on, glad song,
O’er earth’s wide realm again;
We’ll join the glad refrain,
Of ‘Peace on earth, good will to men!’"
Unlike Sears’s later hymn "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," which seeks to apply the meaning of Christ’s birth to the problems of life, this song is primarily a simple recounting of the message about the birth of Jesus that the angels brought to the shepherds of Bethlehem and the joy that it gave to the entire world as we are reminded of the "Song of the Angels."