Music in Babel

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, goodwill 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.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
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.

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 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.

I love this carol (even though written by a Unitarian!) because it reminds us that the angels came to announce the salvation and Lordship of Jesus to shepherds who were not dwelling in a pastoral idyll, but in the world of murderous Herod, Roman oppression, and corrupted religion.

It also presents the rather astonishing thought (which I think is easier to appreciate in this full version) that the song of the angels that night continues now above the “weary folk pining, the city’s crowded clangor, and the homesteads and the woodlands pleading in silence for their peace.” In other words, it rings out above our deceived world, and not even into some private space of mindful relaxation, as the BBC is currently plugging its Christmas music. The song continues because Jesus is still Lord, unsealing the scroll of God’s history as it moves to its pre-ordained climax.

There is indeed an age of gold to come, but it is not one that comes through a Great Reset or any other human effort, but as Scripture teaches through a crisis of evil and the dramatic intervention of Jesus himself. It is the peace of Christ that we may still hear, with the ear of faith, if we allow ourselves to “rest beside the weary road,” however briefly, this Christmas, and hear the angels sing.

Thanks for sticking with me at The Hump of the Camel this year – may you all be truly blessed this Christmas, wherever you may be.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Music in Babel

  1. Peter Hickman says:


    Thank you for providing one of a few voices of reason this year!
    Don’t give up …
    Once the furore of the pandemic subsides, as I hope it will soon, it will be refreshing to turn more to other matters, particularly those theological and scientific topics that interest us but have taken a bit of a back seat.

    May you and yours enjoy a peaceful and happy Christmas.

  2. Robert Byers says:

    Merry Christmas from Canada and keep up the intelligent aggresive criticism of the covid humbug. Although be careful of some circles of too many people. I got a hunch you will be quoted by kids in the future doing school projects on how the covid panic persevered despite practical facts.

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