It Came Upon a Midnight Clear


After seven years of giving of myself and going above and beyond in serving my residents at the nursing home, I was experiencing extreme burnout and fatigue.

Rev. Edward Hamilton Sears struggled with his own breakdown and melancholy in the 1840s.

He struggled with the dark world, “full of sin and strife” and not “hearing the Christian message.”  This inspired him to write a five-stanza poem, first published in 1849, that he had worked on for over a decade.

They set the lyrics to the tune “Carol” written by Richard Starrs Willis, a student of Felix Mendelssohn. Today we know this carol as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

The song comes from the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds in Luke 2:14. The angels spoke of “Peace on the Earth, good will to men.”

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is thought to be the first Christmas carol composed in the United States and was published in the same decade as the resounding Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol”.

The song reminds me of the 1984 movie, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, starring Mickey Rooney. Rooney plays a retired cop, who has a heart attack, and dies. However, he’s allowed one week to return to earth and show his grandson the seasonal glories of Christmas.

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the years for many of us. Sometimes we feel as if we’re in survival mode instead of slowing down and savoring the season. For years, this is exactly how I felt. I had so much to do for work that my personal Christmas shopping and plans had to be completed by Thanksgiving in order to stay sane.

During those seven years of serving in the nursing home, I was responsible for planning and implementing Christmas for 120 residents. Fund-raising occurred year round and major planning began around Labor Day. During the Christmas season, there were cookies with Santa, an outing to look at Christmas lights, Santa’s workshop, countdown activities, sing-a-longs, two Christmas parties for residents (we didn’t have enough space for one party) and a party for the staff.

These activities required considerable planning and preparation. Youth groups helped us put up and decorate twenty-five trees (from a 12-foot tree to the three fiber optic trees on each nurse’s station). We purchased and wrapped presents for each resident, and handed out donated blankets and stocking stuffers.

This year I’ve transitioned to another position within healthcare and am looking forward to having time to savor the season. To slow down and find some new traditions that can be enjoyed and enjoyed. To have time to reflect on the true meaning of the season—the birth of Jesus Christ. To search for that peace on earth, good will to men.

How do you reflect on the meaning of God coming to earth in the form of a baby?


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Diana Leagh Matthews shares God’s love through her story from rebel to redeemed. Her day job is as a volunteer coordinator, but at night she writes and hunts genealogy. She gives programs as a speaker, teacher, and vocalist, and also presents historical monologues. Leagh (pronounced Lee) is the author of History Made Real, Fun with Words, 90 Breath Prayers for the Caregiver, and others in the Breath Prayers series. She writes the history behind hymns at and would love to connect with you