A Weary World
I attended the final Lord’s Day worship service of the year 2021 at The Reformed Evangelical Church. The list of hymns that day included the carol, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. It was a strange song. There was no mention of the Lord Jesus or His birth as you would expect in a Christmas song. Instead, the focus throughout the song was on angels bringing a message of hope and joy to a weary world. One line in the third verse of the song caught my attention: “And still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world”.
Although this song was written in 1849, it reminded me that the world was indeed entering the year 2022 in a state of weariness and was greatly in need of hope. Many people have lost family and close friends in the pandemic over the past year. There is fear and frustration everywhere. The questionable “science” that we are asked to follow has resulted in widespread skepticism. This has fueled frequent street protests across major cities of the world because people are tired of restrictions, lock downs, job losses, and coercion.
Some have used the word “unprecedented” to describe our time. However, this might be over-stating the facts. The Bible describes all creation as “groaning” ever since God imposed the curse after the fall of man (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 8:19-22). The groaning is compared to the pains of childbirth since these pains will eventually lead to a revelation of the true children of God and the final liberation of all creation from the curse. That’s the good news behind the gloomy situation we are facing.
The world may not be aware but it is ripe for the Biblical gospel, the good news of the loving grace of God and the victory that is in Jesus Christ. It occurred to me that it’s now two years into this pandemic but the world has not yet acknowledged the sovereign hand of God in this terrible judgement. This is certainly not the first instance of God using pestilence to judge people. But instead of repentance toward God, the response has been a united, burdensome effort to circumvent His judgement through our own wisdom and strength. The Lord Jesus offers hope. He says, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT – New Living Translation).
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear was written by Edmund Sears, an American Unitarian Pastor, who was recovering from a bout of illness and depression. His depressed condition was rooted in the instability of his country at that time. Although the outbreak of the American Civil War was still a decade in the future, the drums of conflict had already begun to sound. America was deeply divided over the matter of slavery. Sears himself was passionately opposed to slavery. In addition, he would have heard about the widespread revolutionary wave that had engulfed Europe in the previous year (1848). Sears was deeply dismayed by the rising tide of war and confusion everywhere. In the fourth verse of his song, he wrote about the blessed angels singing over the world’s “Babel sounds”.
As a Unitarian, Edmund Sears would have denied the most fundamental Christian doctrine of the Trinity: “God is One in essence, yet distinguished in Three Persons” (The Belgic Confession, Article 8). The doctrine of the Trinity is often used as the critical test to separate orthodox Christianity from the cults. Orthodox Christianity confesses God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost as ONE God. This might explain why Sears did not acknowledge Jesus in his song. It has been suggested that he was a maverick Pastor who may not have subscribed totally to the traditional Unitarian teaching about God. We can’t be sure. All we know is that the events of that time had pressed heavily upon him and that, somehow, he found hope in the message of the angels on that decisive night in human history.
The Bible records how an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds who were guarding their flocks of sheep in the open fields. The angel comforted the terrified shepherds with the announcement that he came to bring “good news that will bring great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10, NLT). That angel was then joined by a host of other angels declaring, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14, NLT). The King James Version (KJV) renders the phrase, “with whom God is pleased” as “good will toward men”. The Greek word, eudokia, which is translated good will in the KJV implies a gracious purpose in the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is the grace of God that brings peace to the earth. This peace is the same as the rich Hebrew word, shalom, which means wholeness or completeness. A weary and broken world needs this peace. But it is found only in Jesus Christ. That’s why the Apostle Paul told the believers at Colosse: “So you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:10, NLT).
Sears would have done well to meditate on Galatians 4:4-5, which summarizes that historic moment in these words, “But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children” (NLT). The good news in the angels’ song was that God the Son had come in human flesh to free mankind from the bondage of sin and death. He was to be called Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23, NLT).
Jesus faced suffering and death so that anyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). But it is impossible to believe in Him if you do not understand who He is. Jesus said emphatically, “…unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, NLT). His self-identification as “I AM” in this verse was a clear claim to deity. Jesus was using Old Testament language for the covenant name of God (Yahweh) to identify Himself (Exodus 3:14).
Man’s perspective of the future may be gloomy and uncertain but, as we go forward, let us seek earnestly the rest that can be found only in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God the Son. Our Lord said, “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. For My yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:29-30, NLT). Jesus made this statement to a group of self-righteous people who were burdened with keeping the law and all the other man-made traditions that the Scribes and Pharisees had laid on them. However, His teaching applies to all who are overwhelmed by any circumstance of life.
Why would the Lord Jesus equate the taking of a yoke with rest? In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Pastor David Platt paints a picture of two oxen bearing a shared yoke upon their necks as they pulled a cart or a plow. Usually, the stronger ox would be the one that is more trained in the commands of the master and therefore would be able to teach or guide the weaker one into learning and obeying the commands of the master. This is what the Lord meant when He said, “My yoke is easy to bear”. We who are the weak ones can find rest in Christ who bears our burdens. So, as we go forward, we should look to Him only.
The Lord Jesus told His disciples who were perplexed about the future: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT).