Unitarian pastor Edmund Sears had transferred to a larger congregation in Lancaster, Massachusetts from his previous smaller church in Wayland, when the mounting pressures drove him to a nervous breakdown. Just seven years into his new tenure in Lancaster, Sears decided to take a break and return to Wayland as a part-time pastor. His depression worsened as he worried about the Mexican-American War and the revolution in Europe. It was during this dark time of personal melancholy that Sears wrote his famous Christmas carol, It Came Upon The Midnight Clear.
The song was first printed in the Christian Register in Boston in December of 1849 and was set to music in 1850 by Richard Storrs Willis, an apprentice of classical composer Felix Mendelssohn. He arranged the song in B-flat for a somber but hopeful feeling. The carol remains especially touching today not just for its lyrical and melodic beauty, but for its contemporary issues of war and peace.
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 heav'n's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
Still thru the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav'nly music floats
O'er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hov'ring wing,
And ever o'er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
For lo! the days are hast'ning on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heav'n and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.