It Came upon the Midnight Clear- an Advent devotional for Dec. 19, 2017

This Advent season I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to. 

I am a little behind because of internet outages and a staff retreat. So today is still a catch-up day, including catch-up day on my Advent devotionals.

It’s the week before Christmas, and unlike in “The Night Before Christmas,” there is stirring in the house. Thoughts and things to do are circling through my head in the wee hours of the morning. So, as these thoughts cycle through I figured, I might as well write some of them down using the words of “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.”

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 heaven’s all gracious king.”
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing. 

It’s a quiet early morning here in Nebraska. No doubt it will be a good day. We wrapped some gifts last night that we’ll enjoy delivering by hand today. The last of the worship services for the Christmas season are finally drafted and just about ready to print. All but a few Christmas cards still needing updated addresses are in the mail. But even so, I am a bit awake.

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. 

As I write these thoughts, and ponder these words of this beautiful and peaceful hymn, I can feel sleep slowly closing in again. I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for the whole team of colleagues whom I feel blessed to call friends as part of the staff of the Nebraska Synod. We spent the first part of our week gathering in retreat to reflect, ponder, and enjoy each other’s company. Being that we are spread across the state of Nebraska, it’s always a wonderful time to gather in person with everyone. I am especially thankful for their vulnerability to share what’s on their hearts and minds, and willingness to ask big questions which may not always have answers.

And you, 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:
oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

Rest is calling my name. I don’t think I am “beneath life’s crushing load,” though I know of a few others who might be this time of year. As I have reflected this Advent, I have to admit it’s been sort of a weird season. I guess that makes sense when life is about to change, when you’re an expecting parent. It has also been a season of gratitude, because as I uttered in a time of worship and prayer earlier this week, I think “Nebraska feels like home” now. It’s taken a little over a year, but I don’t feel like I just live in someone else’s house. I feel like we are in our home. And for me at least, that’s no small thing. It’s a sign of welcome, peace, belonging, and perhaps most of all, comfort and rest.

For lo! The days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old,
when with the ever circling years shall come the time foretold,
when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
and all the world give back the song which now the angels sing. 

As I type by the light of one solitary light bulb, guess what decoration is illuminated? This simple but fitting angel.

If you read my blog often and not just in Advent, you’ll know that one of my on-going themes is that stewardship is our joyful response for all that God has done and continues to do for us. That’s what comes to mind for me in this fourth verse. We sing, “and all the world give back their song which now the angels sing.” We join with the praise of the angels for what God has done and is doing. Our lives are changed and transformed by God. What we do in response to this, how we live our lives is part of how we share this good news with the world.

For me, at least at this hour, I am grateful. I am grateful for you, and I am grateful for God. Somedays I am not always sure how Allison and I have gotten to where we are, but then I think back to the “life I had planned,” and where I thought I knew I was going, back at the start of college for example. I am so grateful that my own planned out path was thrown out the window. Life has been, and continues to be so much richer because of this. As “the days are hastening on,” I hope and trust that this gratitude continues and only grows more deeply.


Credit/Reference: Edmund H. Sears, Richard S. Willis, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 282.

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