In response to Caesar’s census, multitudes returned to the place of their ancestral roots, cramming communities to capacity. Streets were jammed with travelers, local markets crammed with merchants, and doors slammed as house upon house filled with extended family. Lowing, bleating, baaing, and cooing mingled with clattering, chattering, and chuckling, producing a cacophony of commotion and confusion.
Into the midst of this manic menagerie, Mary and Joseph came. Finding no familial housing, they lodged amid stabled animals. No one had room or time for the Christ-bearer! Unknown and unnoticed Mary delivered the Messiah into obscurity and placed him in a manger.
Nearby, resting beneath night’s shadow, sat shepherd sentinels watching their flocks. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord peeled back the evening blanket, overwhelming the shepherds with God’s glory. “Do not be afraid,” he said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Then a great number of the heavenly armies joined the angel in proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
That angelic song is poetically encapsulated in the hymn It Came upon the Midnight Clear (LSB, 366). Verse one reads:
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 all,
From heav’n’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.”
Only a few rustic sheepherders heard the original utterance, but one wonders if people today might still be able to discern its distant echo?
Amid the hustle, hurry and blaring bustle of our lives, are we able to hear the angelic promise of peace in Jesus? Are we any different than little busy Bethlehem who couldn’t be quiet long enough to notice the Messiah? Are our lives peaceable and quiet, characterized by godliness and holiness, or are they defined by dissonance and discord? Can anyone overcome with such strife hear and appreciate the Messiah’s melodies?
In our hymnal, It Came upon the Midnight Clear has four verses. The original poem, however, had five. The omitted verse is quite insightful and instructive. It reads:
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:
Oh! Hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!
In order to have a silent, holy night, in which we can hear the angelic promise, this Christmas perhaps we should heed the poet’s words. Hush the noise and hear the angels sing – for you.
- Pastor Jonathan Conner