For 2000 years, the gospel message has been proclaimed in song as well as sermon. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs have been composed and sung around the world. Some of the most familiar Christian songs are Christmas carols. Often we sing the familiar carols without giving thought to the origin of the songs or the meaning behind the words. Should we take the time to do so, we would find many carols are in agreement with the Bible while others are based more on tradition.
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’s all gracious King,”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
The poem “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” was penned in 1849 by the Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears from Massachusetts as early rumblings of the Civil War were being felt in this country. Later set to music, the message it proclaimed of “peace on the earth, good will to men” soon became the prayer of every American.
The scripture it is based on, however, speaks not of peace between men, but rather of peace being restored between God and all mankind as a result of the Savior’s birth:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 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 (Luke 2:8-14).
The moment the Lamb of God – the sacrifice for man’s sin – was born into the earth, God considered it done and all of heaven rejoiced. God was calling those things which be not as though they were (Romans 4:17) as the angels announced “on earth peace.”
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
The Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr. wrote “We Three Kings” for a Christmas pageant at the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1857. Each year, we see these three kings, bearing three little gifts for the Christ Child, march across Christmas cards and school auditoriums alike. The legend of the three kings has been celebrated for centuries. However, the account in Matthew 2 merely states “there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he that is born the King of the Jews?” (verses 1-2).
Notice the scripture doesn’t say how many wise men there were. Scholars now believe there may have been 50 or more. These weren’t just three fellows riding donkeys and carrying three little boxes. They were men of reputation bringing camels loaded down with gifts for a king.
The Bible does mention that the wise men gave three kinds of offerings: “… when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto [Jesus] gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh” Matthew 2:11. These were precious commodities in that day and would have been worth a fortune. The wise men may not have fully understood the reason for bringing such valuable gifts, but God had a purpose.
And when [the wise men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, out of Egypt have I called my son (Matthew 2:13-15).
The wise men’s gifts provided the finances for Jesus and his family to relocate and live in Egypt until the death of King Herod, and upon their return to Nazareth, Joseph was also able to set up his carpenter’s shop.
God had been ahead and made provision. His angels were on the scene to protect the most important birth to ever take place. All that had been prophesied about Jesus’ birth was fulfilled!
The angel’s message from that first Christmas is still alive today: “Good tidings of great joy; which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It means Jesus is the ANOINTED ONE, and HIS ANOINTING removes burdens and destroys yokes of bondage (Isaiah 10:27)
Jesus came to set “all people” free. So as you sing familiar Christmas carols, remember you’ve been given true peace on earth. Receive that peace by receiving Jesus and all He has done for you. That’s reason to celebrate not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.