One of my favourite Christmas carols (and it’s appropriate for Epiphany too) is “It came upon a midnight clear.” I love how it builds on the theme of “Peace on the earth to all good will,” the angels’ “glorious song of old.” I remember singing this hymn at Christmas 2013, shortly after the outbreak of devastating conflict in South Sudan, a country close to my heart. I heard so profoundly the words of the third verse: “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.” (Some contemporary versions, including Canada’s Common Praise, rewrite this stanza to de-gender the language but it’s one instance where I think gendered language is particularly apt.) It is a song the “weary world” needs to hear again and again.
Though “peace on earth” is the “glorious song of old,” the carol also makes clear that it is looking to the future as well. The final stanza expresses a beautiful eschatological vision:
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
God’s final consummation of all things will complete the work of reconciliation begun by Christ and bring about perfect peace. Not for the first time does this carol make me think that Christian eschatology might best be rendered in verse, not least because I love the vision of an eschaton in which people are singing all the time.
The new year is a time of looking to the future. People make resolutions and dream of who they could be and become. This can all be helpful and constructive. But I think the new year—and the season of Epiphany—is a fine time to recall the glorious future promised by God in Christ and articulated in “It came upon a midnight clear” and countless other places. “The age of gold” is coming and it will bring peace, wholeness, and completeness to the brokenness of our world and ourselves. Sometimes our job as Christians is to “hush,” listen for the song of the angels, and then help others listen for it too.
This message was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.