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.
An 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.
Lyrics from It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
It’s not my favorite Christmas carol but they are my favorite lyrics. The lyrics describe the world as “weary” and “sad;” and life as a “crushing load,” and “toil along the climbing way.” The author was Edmund Sears, a pastor who had suffered a breakdown and wrote the hymn in 1849. He was depressed at the state of the world (Europe was torn by war and revolution, and the U. S. was emerging from war with Mexico). He saw life as a painful struggle. It was all so much Babel—fear, pride, meaningless noise, and foolishness. But Sears also saw and heard something else. He saw the angels of Heaven and he heard the song of the angels, a song that brought a blessing and peace. The angels’ announcement was of a Savior who was to bring rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowful.
I can’t think of any other lyrics that speak as well to us today at Christmas. Our secular Christmas season is all about seeking comfort, meaning, security, and peace in the things we make and buy. We’re busy trying to consume our way to happiness (a poor substitute for joy). There is a babel of advertising clamoring for our attention. We need rest and peace. We need the quiet assurance that only heaven can provide and the blessing that only God can give.
Long ago, on that first Christmas, the world was already old and weary. Rome ruled with an iron rod and subjugated the world. In every province people were forced to return to their home towns to register for taxes. It was the spring of the year and in Palestine the Jews were also preparing for Passover (the only time of the year shepherds were gathered near the city of Jerusalem). So much busyness, so much noise, so much travel, and so many demands.
In the midst of it all, in a quiet place, unnoticed by all but the angels and the shepherds, a young girl gave birth to the Savior of the world…and laid him in a feeding trough in a stable. It wasn’t what anybody expected or wanted—just another peasant baby, born in a stable—but it was God’s saving gift to a lost and dying world. No one noticed. No one cared. Yet, it was the beginning of the most significant life the world has ever seen, the life that changed the world forever.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle this Christmas season don’t miss it. Stay alert. Be prepared. God’s gift is coming to you in common, yet unmistakable circumstances. Be still and sit beside the weary road, and you will hear the angels sing.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie