I collaborate with another writer each Advent season to write readings for our church. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years doing this and it has brought me closer to God. Today, as we’re about to celebrate the second week of Advent, I’d like to share with you a reading I did a few years ago.
Although Christmas is often a time of celebration, joy and happiness for some, for those suffering the loss of a loved one, battling a serious illness or trying to overcome depression and loneliness, the road can become weary and their fears compounded with the added stress of the season. It is especially during these times of utter despair that God longs to provide an everlasting peace for our lives.
When the shepherds first saw the “angel of the Lord” appear to them “they were terrified.” But with the simple statement “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” they experienced the calm of the coming of the Lord and they set out immediately to worship Him (Luke 2:8-15). Their fears were diminished in the presence of God’s serene angel ambassadors and the promise of a savior who would bring peace.
“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears, a conservative Unitarian minister in Wayland, Massachusetts, in 1849, but he didn’t write it as a peaceful Christmas carol. Originally Sears, a poet from a young age, wrote this poem during a dismal time not only in his own life, when he was suffering illness and depression, but also in American history. Wars abounded – Revolution in Europe had begun and the United States’ war with Mexico had just ended.
Although most hymnals omit at least one of the five original stanzas, the remaining still reflect the melancholy mood of its author with words like “solemn,” “woes,” “strife” and lines like “beneath life’s crushing load.” (How many of us can relate to that last one especially at this time of year?)
However, amidst these painful lyrics the singer can also hear the hope for peace that the minister must have felt, like the shepherds so long ago, with lines like “O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!” The shepherds had to stop, or rest, to listen to the angel’s message, just as we need to do today. Don’t we all long to hear the cure for our weariness that is found in the angel’s song? (Check out my friend Fara’s blog post about this same hymn.)
As we traverse through our lives, sometimes filled with disappointment and strife, God has promised us peace for those “on whom his favor rests.” May we be both like the angels – proclaiming God’s goodness and directing others to Him – and also like the shepherds – willing to let go of our fears and follow when directed. And may we find the peace that has been promised along the way.
Besides connecting with God and reading the Word, keeping a journal has brought me an immense sense of stress-relief. That’s why I recently published this journal which specifically helps people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you or someone you love suffers the “winter blues” – consider picking up this journal for them today. God bless.