Hope in the Midnight Clear
As the old carol tells us, the night shone clear and still in the fields outside Bethlehem. Shepherds went about their nightly work in a world enveloped in the quiet of night. Their world was more than just physically dark: the “solemn stillness” on that hillside mirrored the solemn stillness of four hundred years of silence from God.
Into its quiet the most glad tidings broke like the dawn after a dark night: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
Some Christmas carols focus solely on this glorious night and rightfully so. That midnight clear was a joyous one. The Lord of the universe lay in a manger, come to save us. It was truly a blessed, silent, holy night.
Yet “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” spends only one verse exploring Christ’s birth. Instead, it goes on to lament the ways humanity forgets the angel’s song, and to encourage discouraged believers to hear and heed it again. Why does the carol feel the need to encourage pilgrims “beneath life’s crushing load”? Why does it talk of those who “toil along the climbing way,” urging us not to forget the angel’s message?
We know too well that while we live as children of the King, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we still live in a world ruled by sin and its consequences. While we can draw upon the Spirit at every moment, we often tread our present roads “with painful steps and slow,” living in a lost and fallen world. Like the shepherds, we wait in a “midnight clear" of sorts.
But we know that Christ will come again! Praise God that He will return and conquer all and defeat death (1 Cor. 15:23-26). Praise Him that at the very name of Christ “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11). Praise Him that Christ will rule “a new heaven and a new earth” where God will dwell with man (Rev 21:1-3).
Revelation 7 gives a particularly poignant picture of how Christ’s final reign will echo His first coming but far exceed it in glory. As the passage tells us, in that day those who trust in Christ will not fall before a manger but worship “before the throne of God above” (v. 15). Christ will not dwell in a stable but will “shelter” the faithful “with His presence” (v. 15). Shepherds will not adore the Lord; the Lord Himself will shepherd His people and lead them to eternal life (v. 17).
In the midst of these dark days we have much to anticipate. Christ will come again. When He does, the whole world will “give back the song / Which now the angels sing” and the redeemed of the Lord will dwell with Him forever.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" - Sara Groves