VIDEO A Midnight Clear

A Midnight Clear

The middle of the nineteenth century in America was a volatile time:

•In 1848, the United States concluded a controversial, costly, and casualty-heavy two-year war with Mexico. The Mexican-American War cast a dark shadow over the nation.

Opposition to slavery in America was increasing from a simmer to a rolling boil that would soon spill over into a war between the states.

.By 1850 the Industrial Revolution had enticed multitudes of people to exchange their marginal rural lives for even more marginal city lives, swapping one kind of poverty and insecurity for another.

•When gold was discovered in California in 1848, hundreds of thousands of American men joined the California Gold Rush to pursue the fantasy of striking it rich, leaving women and children to fend for themselves.

•Reverberations of the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe were unsettling our government as well as the millions of immigrants to America whose relatives were suffering in their homelands.

•Opposition to slavery in America was increasing from a simmer to a rolling boil that would soon spill over into a war between the states.

These national storm clouds were reflected in the lives of individuals as well, people like Reverend Edmund Sears, a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. Though he was a Unitarian, he personally believed in the deity of Jesus Christ and found refuge in his faith at a difficult time. After a trying period in his ministry, he suffered a breakdown. During the dark night of his soul, as he looked around at the state of his nation, he longed for there to be peace on earth, goodwill to men—and peace in his own soul as well.

Because Christmas involves giving and serving, it reminds us of the One who came to serve and give Himself to the world.

:That was 1849, the year Reverend Sears put pen to paper and poured out the longing of his heart in a long poem of five stanzas. He wrote about a “midnight clear” when the world had once “in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.” He described the “weary world” he witnessed and its “sad and lowly plains” over which heavenly songs from angels were needed. He described the “sin and strife,” the “two thousand years of wrong,” and “life’s crushing load”—and how badly the world needed to hear from “heaven’s all-gracious King.” But he concluded in hope: “When peace shall over all the earth, its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.”

His poem became the beloved Christmas carol, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” an annual favorite of Christians around the world. He focused his hymn on that “midnight clear” when the angels announced to Bethlehem’s shepherds the birth of the baby Jesus. It was the angels’ message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” that Edmund Sears longed to experience both nationally and personally.

It is no surprise that he wrote his hymn in the Christmas season (it was first published as a poem on December 29, 1849). Christmas, more than any other time of the year, is the season that gives us clarity about life. If the angels appeared to the shepherds on a “midnight clear,” then Christmas is our annual “season clear”—the time when we are able to see what is most important in our lives.

If 1849 motivated Edmund Sears to long for a more peaceful life and world, how much more has 2020 said the same to us? And if we have felt unsettled and concerned all through this year, how much more does Christmas give us clarity about the only Person who can bring peace on earth and goodwill to men—including at the personal and family level?

Because Christmas involves giving and serving, it reminds us of the One who came to serve and give Himself to the world. When we remember what He has done for us, we are reminded to do the same for others.

Christmas can be a maze of commercialism if we let it. Instead, let’s make it a moment of clarity in which we view our sometimes confusing and threatening world against the backdrop of God’s gift to us: The Prince of Peace who was announced by angels on that original “midnight clear.” 

By David Jeremiah

It Came upon the Midnight Clear (with lyrics)

Who You Are

What is mankind that you are mindful of them? Psalm 8:4

His name is Dnyan, and he considers himself a student of the world. And “this is a very big school,” he says of all the cities and towns he’s passed through. He began a four-year journey on his bicycle in 2016 to meet and learn from people. When there’s a language barrier, he finds that sometimes people can understand just by looking at each other. He also depends on a translation app on his phone to communicate. He doesn’t measure his journey in the miles he’s traveled or the sights he’s seen. Instead, he measures it in the people who’ve left an imprint on his heart: “Maybe I do not know your language, but I would like to find out who you are.” 

It’s a very big world, yet God knows everything about it and the people in it—fully and completely. The psalmist David was in awe of God when he considered all the works of His hands: the making of the heavens, the moon, and the stars (Psalm 8:3). He wondered, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (v. 4). 

God knows you more thoroughly than anyone else possibly can and He cares for you. We can only respond, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1, 9).

By:  Anne Cetas

Reflect & Pray

How do you feel knowing that God knows all about you and loves you? What does believing this truth look like in your life today?

Dear God, it’s awesome to realize that You’re all-knowing about Your whole creation. I love You for knowing me personally too.

Cry Out to the Lord

Psalm 107:23-32

Like the sailors in today’s passage, at some point you will hit great turbulence in your life. Perhaps you are currently experiencing a storm with no end in sight. Your situation may be so serious that you wonder how you’ll ever get through it. You’ve tried everything possible to resolve the matter but to no avail. 

The solution is to do exactly what these sailors did—cry to the Lord in your trouble (Psalm 107:28). After all, He is sovereign over storms and uses them for His good purposes. God knows we sometimes need to reach the end of our own resources before we will turn to Him. Then, if we call out to the Lord and submit to His authority over the storm, He will calm the waves in His perfect timing and guide us to safety.

Remember, the goal is not simply to escape turmoil but to learn to depend on the Lord instead of ourselves. Trusting Him to handle what we cannot will ultimately lead to gladness, thanks, and praise for His lovingkindness and intervention on our behalf. And another wonderful result will be that we tell others how faithful God has been, so they can trust Him, too.

Light from the Word

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

One of the more beautiful metaphors in the Bible, “light” is used either metaphorically or literally to stress understanding, knowledge, or truth. When inaccurate interpretations of God’s Word are taught, Isaiah said it is “because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Peter noted that prophetic insight is like “light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19).

One of the Lord’s most memorable statements was “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Little wonder, then, that in this majestic psalm centering on the Word of God, this stanza (Psalm 119:105-112) acknowledges the role executed by the Scriptures “as the light that goeth forth” (Hosea 6:5).

The psalmist again mentioned his affliction (v. 107) and that his soul was constantly “in my hand” (Psalm 119:107, a Hebrew idiom for constant danger; see 1 Samuel 28:21). But nonetheless, his instant reaction was to focus on the “righteous judgments” of God and a promise to “not forget thy law” (Psalm 119:109). He begged for the Lord to teach him God’s “judgments” (v. 108) and promised not to err “from thy precepts” (v. 110).

Thus, woven throughout the stanza are the constant paradoxical tensions of supplication for relief from the wicked efforts to “snare” him (see 2 Timothy 2:26) and the confidence that whatever conditions may develop, the written Word of God would provide answers. Those words are “the rejoicing” of his heart (119:111), much like when David sang, “Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD” (Psalm 105:3).

Finally, in the last line of this stanza, the psalmist challenged us to embrace his own commitment to the Word of God as he wrote, “I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end” (Psalm 119:112). HMM III

The Real Necessity of Wounds

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word…. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. —Psalm 119:67,71

It is amazing to me! There are people within the ranks of Christianity who have been taught and who believe that Christ will shield His followers from wounds of every kind.

If the truth were known, the saints of God in every age were only effective after they had been wounded. They experienced the humbling wounds that brought contrition, compassion and a yearning for the knowledge of God. I could only wish that more among the followers of Christ knew what some of the early saints meant when they spoke of being wounded by the Holy Spirit….

In every generation, the people who have found God have been those who have come to the end of themselves. Recognizing their hopelessness, they have been ready to throw themselves on the mercy and grace of a forgiving God.   MMG059, 062

Lord, don’t let me waste the humbling wounds. Do Your great work within me, and help me to respond properly and learn all You want me to learn through Your working. Amen.

Are You Really Sure?

For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. —Romans 6:7-8

Are you sure that you want your personality to be taken over by One who will expect obedience to the written and living Word? Are you sure that you want your personality to be taken over by One who will not tolerate the self sins?

For instance, self-love. You can no more have the Holy Ghost and have self-love than you can have purity and impurity at the same moment in the same place….

Self-love, self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-admiration, self-aggrandizement, and self-pity are under the interdiction of God Almighty, and He cannot send His mighty Spirit to possess the heart where these things are….

[Do] you desire to have your personality taken over by One who stands in sharp opposition to the world’s easy ways?…The Spirit of God, if He takes over, will bring you into opposition to the world….Are you sure, brother? HTB044-045

As the spirit of self-advancement is the root of all sin, so the spirit of self-denial is the root of all holiness. DTC139

Just In Time for The Census

Galatians 4:4

We exist in a world of cybernetics. We are quite used to a periodic census, to polls that follow each other in interminable succession. We are accustomed to completing questionnaires that demand every procurable tidbit of personal history couched in terms of “when, where and how,” but never “why.”

Born “just in time for a census,” we say of Jesus. The “where” we know: in Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral city, where any family records would be kept. Joseph’s genealogy showed him 27 generations in line of descent from the greatest of all Israel’s kings.

The “how” we know. The Child arrives in unprepossessing circumstances. No accommodation in the lodge makes any emergency shelter, however rough, appreciated.

But for the “why” we must listen again to the Angel Gabriel’s message to Mary and the reassuring one to Joseph: “You are to give Him the name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Only as the “why” is answered does the question of the “when” make sense—just in time for the first registration of its kind. A minor fact in the story, perhaps, but one with major significance.

God’s indescribable gift is given in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4 KJV). He is to be “numbered” among the children of men and, later to be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). He is to be part of humanity’s mass, under authority, subject to civil and magisterial powers, but brother to all. He is to be a cipher among millions of ciphers, classified by tribe and town, genealogically noted and inescapably recorded.

But that is not all. He is, thank God, as the Christmas carol reminds us, the “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning.” Though “veiled in flesh,” the Godhead is seen. He is, in the poetical words of Charles Wesley, “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

Because God included Jesus in the human census, the census of divine love will exclude none, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”

(Acts 2:21). The One who was “counted in” during the Bethlehem census is the one and only Savior for those of us who, but for divine grace, would eternally be “counted out.”

Arnold Brown, Occupied Manger, Unoccupied Tomb