The World in Solemn Stillness

painting of the Adoration of the shepherds
Image via Wikipedia

We’re watching, one more time, It’s a Wonderful Life. Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel Second Class), aka Henry Travers, is showing George Bailey, aka James Stewart, how his hometown would look if George had never been born.

In a couple of minutes, George will learn that, because he never existed, his wife, Mary, aka Donna Reed, not only never married, but became a librarian. Judging from her granny glasses, frumpy hat, and bun, that’s a fate worse than death.

It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t my favorite Christmas movie. I prefer Miracle on 34th Street, in which Edmund Gwenn–whom I rank right up there with Henry Travers–is declared, in court, to be the real Santa Claus. No librarians were defamed in the making of that show.

Nevertheless, as soon as half the town crowds into the Bailey living room to pile money on the table, I start to cry. And I cry through the credits and the next three commercials. Even a not-favorite movie can stir emotions. Year after year after year.

Favorites aren’t easy for me. I don’t have a favorite novel or a favorite song or a favorite color. Or a favorite teacher, actor, or pet. I have multiple favorites. For me, those get-your-password questions–“What is your favorite television show?”–are useless. I never remember whether I said Andy Griffith or Law and Order or I’ll Fly Away.

I do, however, have a favorite Christmas carol: “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” The melody is lovely and singable, but it’s the words that move me. They speak of peace and quiet and rest for the weary, of heavenly song floating above earthly babble. They speak of both ancient tidings of peace to one small group of men, and a promise of the world in complete harmony.

But the lyrics also speak of the present, of stopping, and looking up, and seeing angels. They’re there now, and they’re singing.

We have only to be still and listen.

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.

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.

And 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.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.

*****

Image: Abraham Hondius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1663

*****

Reposted from December 25, 2010.

11 thoughts on “The World in Solemn Stillness

  1. Nice Christmas blog. I’m going to steal your idea (with credit of course) but my favorite Chrismas song is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Thanks

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  2. I stole your and Pat Bean’s ideas and tried to leave you credit but I doubt I was successful. My favorite is entered in my blog now too.
    Thanks, Kathy( and Pat Bean)

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    1. It’s lovely to have other writers steal from me. I’ve read Pat’s post–now to find what your favorite is. Hope you had–or are having–a good holiday.

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  3. Merry Christmas. What a lovely post! Can you believe I’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life?! I do love Miracle on 34th Street, though.

    Hope you are enjoying this wonderful day!

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  4. Beautiful, Kathy. I love that one too. And I haven’t caught ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ yet this year. Time to look at the schedules…

    Happy Christmas. Thank you for a wonderful year of posts.

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  5. I somehow missed this post! Hey, I cry just BEFORE the scene where everyone gives him money, because I know it’s coming. In fact, I’m tearing up typing this. I couldn’t possibly have a favorite Xmas carol. I love them all! But I do love What Child is This for the melody and the modal harmony.

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