Christmas Carols and Detective Work

Because I love hymns, words in general, and text criticism, I’m fascinated by different versions of hymns. I like to try to figure out which version was original and why the changes might have been made. Here’s a Christmas example: the last verse of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

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 send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

That’s the original, as far as I can tell. But I think this is what we normally hear (changes in italics):

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets 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 give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

I assume those changes are intended to make the song more explicitly Christian. (The author was a Unitarian.)

Then last year I heard yet another version for the first time:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever circling years
Shall come the time foretold;
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their king
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Now, I like that one the best, because it makes explicit that the way in which peace will come over the whole earth is by all creation acknowledging the reign of the Prince of Peace, which will only happen in the new heavens and the new earth.

So normally I’m not a huge fan of changing authors’ lyrics, but chances are if you worship at Faith Community Church in Prague next Christmas, you’ll be hearing version #3.


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Comments

  1. Sounds great – can’t wait for next Christmas. Get your butt here.

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