Glorious Song Of Old

By Glenn A. Hascall


This is the dramatized story of the Christmas Carol, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," from its beginnings as part of a Christmas sermon to the trenches of World War II. The reasoning behind this joyous carol may come as a surprise to many.


(Speaking parts)
(Non-speaking parts)
As many World War II soldiers as is practical for your setting
NOTE: This script could also be performed without changing scenes. There is enough narrative that the minor scene changes could occur (during the narrative) without a need for a break.


Scene 1

(Setting: A study set in 1849.)
NARRATOR: Winter has just begun in 1849. Dr. Edmund Sears is a pastor spending much of his time searching the Bible for answers to his many questions. As we visit his study, we find him at work in his second occupation - editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
EDMUND: (Looks over a piece of paper, using a pencil to mark errors as he reads through the article).
DINAH: (Walks in and looks at her husband) My dear Edmund, you do look weary.
EDMUND: Indeed I am, Dinah. (Brightens slightly) But since I have just completed my editorial duties (Picks up his Bible) I am now free to begin preparing a Christmas message for our little congregation.
DINAH: Is there no time left for me?
EDMUND: Certainly, my dear (Puts the Bible down). What is your pleasure?
DINAH: Simple conversation is more than enough.
EDMUND: (Distracted) Oh, the stream of words - it has no end. Yet they seem a necessity.
DINAH: It's true, they are.
EDMUND: I suppose.
DINAH: Oh, Edmund, did you see the snowfall yet today? (Walks over to a window)
EDMUND: It is fortunate I found the time to join you for supper. (Joins Dinah and looks outside) Um, it is absolutely beautiful, isn't it?
DINAH: (Looks at her husband and then says the unspoken word of her husband) However...
EDMUND: (Melancholy smile) You do know me so well.
DINAH: Tell me what troubles you, Edmund.
EDMUND: I could not, my dear. It is you who should be talking - not me.
DINAH: Yet I would hear your heart, husband.
EDMUND: (Pause, looking out through the window) Do you see them?
DINAH:  Ah, street urchins, waifs and other social outcasts. Yes, they are a constant sight.
EDMUND: There are so many in need of such things as food and clothing, there are slaves that should be free. I see the oppression of "the least of these" and I can't seem to free myself of a burden that mankind is negligent in following our Lord's example to assist those in need. Why, the gospels are filled with stories of how Jesus helped those who were hungry, sick and in bondage, yet, all these centuries later we see that there are still those who are hungry, those who are sick and those who
DINAH: ... in bondage?
EDMUND: Indeed! Slavery is a blight on America. It shames me to know that such an enterprise still exists in my own country.
DINAH: Edmund, I do not have the answers that you require, but I know that we serve the One who knows all. Seek Him and He will show you what you must do - and what you must say. (Kisses his head and walks over to the window and looks out). Now if you will excuse me, I think I'll begin a pot of stew, it appears it is needed again this night.
EDMUND: Thank you, Dear. I will be down directly - and help you serve.
DINAH: (Smiles at Edmund as she walks off stage).
EDMUND: (Opens a well-worn Bible and begins to read silently then stops and begins an emotional prayer) Dear Heavenly Father, I am in mortal anguish, the pain I feel is hard to dismiss. The burning within is not easily quenched. Mankind remains less than civil to their fellow man. Has it always been so? (Pause) I must preach a sermon to the parishioners of my church and yet I find I have no words to describe what I feel. I implore You to help me put into words the burning of my heart. In the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
(Looks back at his Bible and reads out loud) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (Smiles broadly and looks heavenward) Thank you, Father!
(Begins to write furiously)
NARRATOR: A poem took rapid form for Edmund as his troubled heart spilled forth an ode to Christmas and the Christ-child that made 'people' His highest concern.
(Fade to black)

Scene 2

(Setting: Revise study from Scene 1 only slightly. Richard is to be portrayed as somewhat disorganized, so his desk should probably be cluttered somewhat.
NARRATOR: Dr. Edmund Sears preached a memorable sermon and used his inspired poem to conclude his message. The congregation was moved with compassion toward their fellow man, and Edmund was inspired to include his little poem
in one of the publications he edited.
A copy of, " The Christian Register" found its way into the hands of a composer by the name of Richard Storrs Willis. Willis had studied in Germany under Felix Mendelssohn before returning to America in 1848. After reading the poem, the musician went home and played a piece of music he had written entitled "Carol".  He discovered that the poem by Dr. Sears was a perfect match to his music.
THOMAS: Richard, I hope you have gathered all of the material we need. The book will need to be printed soon.
RICHARD: Yes, you should have all of he music I intend to send, Thomas.
THOMAS: You've left nothing out?
RICHARD: (Pause) Ah, there is one other that I have forgotten. It is a poem written by a Dr. Edmund Sears. I found a piece of music I composed in Germany and put the two together. Do you think it is worthwhile?
THOMAS: Let me look at it.
RICHARD: (Looks through a ledger until he finds it and hands it to Thomas)
THOMAS: "Study Number 23"? That's the name of the song?
RICHARD: Perhaps if I had more time.
THOMAS: Well, time is something we do not have, I'm afraid. I'll take it as is and we'll see what we can do.
RICHARD: Thank you, Thomas.
THOMAS: Good night, Richard.
NARRATOR: In 1860, the little poem inspired by the poverty and struggle of the common man at Christmas time was subjected to a new arrangement by Richard Willis and republished under a new name, "While Shepherd Watched Their Flocks By Night". This, too, proved to be a mistake, due to the fact that a carol published under the same name had been written 45 years earlier by Nahum Tate. In subsequent publications, the Sears/Willis carol would finally come into its own by claiming a name that has evoked fond Christmas memories for more than a century. With a new arrangement and a new name, the song began to flourish and gain acceptance amidst America's Civil War. By 1917, the song had become one of
the most beloved Christmas songs of all times as American soldiers sang it in the trenches of World War I in France.
(Fade to black)

Scene 3

(Setting: World War II U.S.O. Show. Army personnel are looking out toward the audience, but above and beyond them to signify that they are watching the performance.)
NARRATOR: U.S.O shows during the holidays of World War II brought the talents of entertainers like Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore to America's military men overseas. The haunting melody and words of Sears and Willis left its mark on the troops. Like Edmund Sears, nearly 100 years before, the soldiers could readily identify with the message of, "Peace on earth" stated so eloquently in Sears' poem and carried along so masterfully by the Richard Willis' melody.
(Play Bing Crosby's version of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear". Actors on stage should become somber and melancholy as they listen to the song. If you don't have the Bing Crosby version allow one of your male choir members to sing the song. Once complete the men on stage bow their head in reverent silence - music should continue lightly through the remainder of the dialogue)
NARRATOR: More than 150 years have passed since this song was written. Edmund Sears crafted a poem that weaves the tale of the Christ-child's birth with the plight of those in need. His heart was no more transparent than in a verse that has long since been removed from most modern-day versions of the carol.
EDMUND: (Off-stage, mic'd and reverbed slightly)
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath 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!
NARRATOR: The struggle that Sears felt in 1849 is the  same struggle we face in this new century. Mankind can still be cruel. There is still sickness, poverty and bondage. Perhaps in this holy time of remembrance we can take the time to recall the reason Jesus came, for He Himself said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Perhaps this truth should encourage each of us during this annual celebration to remember a humble birth and a life lived in service to those in need. The Son of God became the perfect sacrifice allowing "the least of these" the same gift that others - less able to recognize their need - must ultimately choose to
accept or reject.
Copyright 2002 by Glenn A. Hascall
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