For our Advent devotionals we are looking deeper at some of our favorite carols.
Today’s Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Today’s Carol: It Came upon the Midnight Clear
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 heav’n’s all gracious King.
The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the 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!
All 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!
Sometimes the best lyrics are in the verses we normally don’t sing. I think that’s true of this carol. Verse two is about war and peace and how we have had two thousand years of wrong in which humans don’t even hear the love song sung by the angels. “Men of strife” are instructed to “hush the noise” and hear the angels sing. When the lyrics to this carol were written in 1849 the US-Mexican war had just ended. Some say that war was the focus on the author, Edmund Sears.
However, Edmund Sears was also someone who struggled with mental illness. He was a pastor of a Unitarian Church and suffered a nervous breakdown, having to leave full-time ministry. I think we can see the influence of his illness in verse three. Go back and look at it. Not very Christmas-y is it? Or, maybe it is.
When our forms are bending low beneath life’s crushing load. When we move with slow painful steps (both literally and figuratively!), when we toil through life – Sears reminds us to stop and rest beside the road. The angels are still brining the good news that they brought that first Christmas. Maybe Christmas this year reminds us that the news is still good – even if we are weary. My prayer is that all of us who are struggling today can hear the angels sing.
God we admit to you that sometimes this life bends us low. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the violence of our world. Sometimes our steps are painful and slow. In those times God, help us to hear the song of the angels who declare peace and good will. Let us hear the angels again this very day.