It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Carols of Advent Peace

Scripture Focus: John 13.13-15
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Luke 2.13-14
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Carols of Advent Peace
By Jon Polk

After graduating in 1837 from the Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edmund Hamilton Sears settled in as pastor in the country town of Wayland. The church was impressed with his character and preaching and Sears, who never had ambitions for a prominent city congregation, was enamored by the quiet beauty of the little parish.

One can sense parochial tranquility in his most famous hymn.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old…

The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sears’ family would quickly grow to four children, compelling him to seek out a larger church which could support them. In 1840, he accepted the pastorate of a church in Lancaster, where he would serve for seven years.

The work in Lancaster was difficult and Sears suffered from illness, depression, and an eventual breakdown. Ultimately, his condition deteriorated to the point where he was unable to project his preaching voice loud enough for the congregation to hear.

To facilitate recovery, he returned to Wayland for a year of rest. When healthy, he was invited to return to the Wayland church part-time, which freed him to use his gifts in writing.

In the aftermath of his personal struggles, he wrote “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” in 1849. At the time, the U.S. was reeling from the Mexican War and struggling with slavery as the Civil War drew near.

His sadness is palpable in the lyrics.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long…

And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring…

Sears’ theology was passionately focused on Christ; he preached “The word ‘Jesus’ opens the heart and touches the place of tears.” He maintained that Christ alone had bridged the great divide between God and humanity.

As a result, he believed that we are responsible for implementing God’s peace in the world, consequently he preached for equality of women and men, opposing killing even in war, and against the evils of slavery.

This work towards peace is reflected in the carol’s hopeful ending.

When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Following his life struggles, Sears managed to find his own peace and eventually a new purpose as a full-time writer. In his most read work, The Fourth Gospel: The Heart of Christ, he writes,

My consciousness at one time may give me an inward sense of moral ruin and disorder. I may see a creation rise out of this chaos… a peace more sweet than the tranquility of the morning… It comes not from inward beholdings of the Deity, but of what He does…

Listen: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Over the Rhine
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send our your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. — Psalm 43.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 10 (Listen – 2:11)
John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

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Read more about From Silence, Peace :: Peace of Advent
The God who turned his back, came back. He came to speak peace to the people who had chosen death instead of life.

Stealing Death’s Sting

John 12.27-33
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Reflection: Stealing Death’s Sting
By John Tillman

Lent is often a time in which believers look, with the help of the Holy Spirit at sin in our individual lives and in our communities. This week we have looked at sin and its effects on us, on our world, on our relationship with God.

We learned sin is not something we can brush off or take lightly. There are no small sins, only sins the costs and consequences of which we have denied or grossly misunderstood.

We learned actions can be sins, but that sin is an overwhelming environmental poison and influence that we are all terminally irradiated with. We are steeped in sin and the brew grows stronger and stronger the longer we deny it.

We learned scripture is not a weapon we can disassemble, using some verses to accuse others, and ignoring ones that point to our own sin. The sword of scripture cuts to the heart. But we must start with our own.

We also saw that the resurrection of Lazarus demonstrates the glory of God. Like Moses, God hid Lazarus in a cleft in a rock, covered his face, and allowed him a glimpse of God’s glory as Jesus passed by on the way to Jerusalem and to the cross.

In today’s reading we see that glory coming into sharper focus.  God is glorified through Christ’s sacrifice. Sin is defeated by his death, and death is defeated in his resurrection. Christ conquers sin, stealing death’s sting and the grave’s victory. Christ is lifted up and we are drawn to him, leaving sin and death behind.

Pray this prayer over your sin and the sin of your community over this weekend:

Lord, we see ourselves in scriptures from this week.
Like the religious leaders, we protest our innocence with bloody hands.
Like the woman, we are naked, stripped, and discovered in sin.
Like the blind man, Lord, we are steeped in sin.
Like the dead man, Lord, we are dead in sin.

Lord, we want to see.
Heal our eyes so we can see our sin.
Lord, we want to confess.
Show us our sin so we can weep over it.
Lord, we want to sin no more.
Cover our nakedness and give us your purpose and power to live as we are called.
Lord, we want to wake up.
Call us from our whitewashed tombs of empty righteousness.
Untie our grave clothes and strip us of the trappings of this world.
Let us walk into the light and follow your loving voice.

* Ain’t No Grave, Cageless Birds

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

Today’s Readings
Exodus 33 (Listen – 3:49)
John 12 (Listen – 6:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 34 (Listen – 5:48) John 13 (Listen – 5:06)
Exodus 35 (Listen – 4:31) John 14 (Listen – 4:13)

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Read more about The Fragrance of Faith :: Readers’ Choice
Jesus makes clear that Mary has fulfilled the prophetic purpose of the gift as, “It was intended…for the day of my burial.“ Mary alone among the disciples has understood Christ’s prophecies.

Read more about Rend Your Hearts
Joel’s admonition is to go beyond public signals of mourning or confession. It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance.

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