Dissecting “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” Quiz

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

  • Luke 2:1-3

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.

  • Matthew 2:1

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.
2 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.
3 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!
4 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.”

  • Edmund H. Sears, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

I had a stern, harsh mother, who was a stickler for details.  She was also the church’s choir director, organist, etc.  She announced in my high school years that the only carol that was Biblically correct was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”  Read the words sometime.  The lyrics talk about the deity of Jesus, but they give no details.  Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche once wrote, in German, “The devil is in the details.”  But when we apply this saying to my mother’s favorite carol, there are none.  Yet, It Came upon a Midnight Clear has so many details, are they Biblical?

I hope you liked last week’s quiz and this one.  I plan to follow them with another carol next Saturday, but I have no idea which one.

Consider the columns to be “buckets.”  Place the “details” of the carol into one of three buckets.  I will be lenient in my assessment, but to be technically correct, I will use an asterisk(*) if not precise.  All answers will be based on the NIV.  The three buckets are: 1) This detail is in at least one of the Christmas stories, Matthew or Luke or in Old Testament prophecy. 2) This detail, or word, is in the Bible, but not related to the Christmas story. And 3) This detail is not in the Bible at all.

There will be no Bible Reference Section.  The Bible Verses will be placed in the correct “bucket” in the answer section, unless the word is not in the Bible at all

The Questions:

?Word from the LyricsChristmasSomewhere ElseNowhere
1Midnight   
2Clear   
3Angels   
4Harps of Gold   
5“Peace on Earth, Good Will to men”   
6World in solemn stillness   
7Peaceful wings unfurled   
8Sad and lowly plains   

Like Away in a Manger last week, this carol is beautiful in that in the middle of the carol, starting with the third verse, it no longer mentions the details of the birth of Jesus, true, false, or myth.  It focuses on the application.  We have a toilsome way in our journey of faith and God is with those who have Him in their hearts.

I would definitely not throw out this carol for mentioning a few things that may not be Biblical, yet are widely accepted in the Christian mythology.  Many of the details that may not be Biblical, except for a couple, are common thoughts about the things that are Biblical here.  Yet, we cannot assume those details to be true.

   …

   …

   …

The Answers:

?Word from the LyricsChristmasSomewhere ElseNowhere
1Midnight 11 times in the Bible, but not in the Christmas stories 
2Clear*Matthew 2:1066 times in the Bible, but not in the Christmas stories 
3AngelsLuke 2:15  
4Harps of Gold “harp” 49 times in the Bible, but not in the Christmas stories 
5“Peace on Earth, Good Will to men”**Luke 2:14  
6World in solemn stillness  Solemn mentioned 14 times (usually a solemn oath).  God tells us to be still.
7Peaceful wings unfurled “wings” 62 times in the Bible, often applying to angels, but not in the Christmas stories 
8Sad and lowly plains  Bethlehem is rather hilly, not considered the plains.

The solemn stillness and lowly plains may have just been poetic additions.  The solemn stillness is like how Away in a Manger suggest Jesus never cried.  Then, how did He communicate?  And I doubt if Bethlehem is considered a “plain.”

As for the asterisks, The angels appeared, but I doubt if angels require a clear day to appear.  In most art, they are floating among the clouds.  This does not mean that the artists have it right either.  But the clearness of the sky is even in question in the Matthew story.  The Maji would not have bothered, possibly, with visiting Herod if they had not lost sight of the star.  After visiting Herod, they were overjoyed that the star was again in view.  Again, it does not state whether the sky was clear, but if you cannot see the star and then you can, this hints that it was cloudy, but there was a break in the clouds.

The second asterisk is pertaining to the condition for Peace on Earth, for those in whom God’s favor rests.  There will be no peace for those who do not come to Jesus.

As for the harps and wings, harps are mentioned in prophetic works (OT and NT) in connection to heavenly beings.  Also multiple wings are mentioned with some types of angels, but sometimes angels are simply described as looking like people.

In this video by Josh Groban, It Came upon a Midnight Clear.

And Mannheim Steamroller always places a different slant to any Christmas Song.

And I have always liked this medley of Little Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth.  It sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

If you like these Saturday morning Bible quizzes, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Saturday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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