(Editor’s note: this was first printed in December 2004, when my children were 13, 11 and 8. )
Since the time I was a baby, every Christmas I heard the song “It came upon a midnight clear. . ..” I’ve sang it so many times I know the words by heart, but I’ve never really listened to the words.
This year was different.
It may have started with my three children fighting. The constant, unrelentless picking on each other that never seemed to cease.
From early in the morning, until I tucked the last one in at night, there was the constant noise of bickering.
Occasionally it escalated into a pinch, or a shove, or a trip that results in crying and the need for me to mete some sort of judgement.
By December 5, with the increasing stress of trying to get all the activities finished, soccer, school, church, and Christmas letters, presents and baking, I had reached the end of my tether.
After yet another skirmish that resulted in hurt feelings and crying, I looked at my three and in low seething voice, laid out this proclamation, “Until you can go one day without fighting, we are not going to decorate the Christmas Tree.”
My middle child, the philosopher, noted that we already had a tree and that I wouldn’t be right not to decorate it and it wasn’t fair because he hadn’t started the last battle.
I simply restated that the fate of the tree rested in their hand hands and went back to cooking.
Quiet, I needed quiet. I needed time to hear angels whisper. With all the noise at my house, I couldn’t have heard an angel choir, even with amplification.
Edmund Hamilton Sears, the youngest of three children who grew up in Massachusetts wrote the words for “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” in 1849.
It was done during a “blue” period in his life, with the memory of the United States war with Mexico floating his mind, he composed the poetry of the hymn. One verse goes:
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.
The hymn has been criticized because it never mentions the Christ-child.
Erik Routley, a British carol scholars says, “in its original form, the hymn is little more than an ethical song, extolling the worth and splendor of peace among men.”
I am convinced that unless we quiet the noise of fighting, the noise of talking, the noise of game boys, television, buns and war – and quiet them all, we’ll never hear the angels sing—nor hear them whisper.
If, for just a time, a short time, we could hush noise and strife around the world, would there be a chance that something good might happen?
If, we could have just one complete day with silence, without someone trying to provoke or do evil, would we hear the angels?
My youngest, my most private child, told my other two, “Please don’t fight anymore.”
They looked at him and said, “Duh, like we want to decorate the Christmas tree, too.”
He looked at them panic stricken and said, “Please, if you don’t mom will write about this and put it in the paper.”
I don’t know if the angels sang that day, but I do know there was one quiet blissful day in our household. The tree was decorated the next day.
I hope the angels whisper messages of peace to all and to everyone in the coming year.