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Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Message

December 2011

~The Weary Road~

“And ye, 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. 

O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.”

~It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

 

Dear Friends,

 

            Edmund Sears’ famous Christmas carol, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” was written both as a celebration of Jesus’ birth and as an outcry against slavery.  Sears was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, and he wrote his heartfelt words in 1849 at a time when the abolitionist movement was sweeping across the North and dividing Christians bitterly.  Congregationalists and Presbyterians were especially active in the struggle to end slavery.  Nevertheless, some leading theologians of the day—including the famous Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary—believed that to attack the institution of slavery was to attack the authority of the Scriptures.  (After all, didn’t the Apostle Paul command slaves to be obedient to their masters?)  It’s hard to believe that there was a time in this country, even in northern Presbyterian circles, when raising your voice against slavery could get you branded a theological liberal!


            For Sears, and many others, the coming of Jesus was not only meant to bring us personal salvation; it was also meant for the salvation of human society: freedom for slaves, equality for women, fair treatment for laborers, and an end to child labor.  Sears believed that Jesus’ words and way of life would hold a mirror up to society, showing us all that needed to be changed.  Just listen to the third verse of Sears’ carol:



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;

O hush the noise, ye men of strife,

And hear the angels sing.



            I’ve never seen that poignant verse included in any modern hymnal.  I’ve never heard it sung.  And yet, if the angels, and the shepherds, and the star above the manger have any message at all, it is this!  After the babe in the manger grew up, he declared in his very first sermon: “I have been sent to proclaim good news to the poor; release to the captives; liberty to those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1).

 

            And so, have yourself a merry little Christmas.  Enjoy the music, and the feasting, and the family gatherings, and the gifts, and the rich nostalgia of the season.  I hope you will take some time to “rest beside the weary road” of your life “to hear the angels sing.”  But never forget that the baby Jesus is more than just a pretty picture.  He has come to upset the apple carts of injustice.  And he expects his followers to do the same.

                                                           

 

                                                                        Christmas Blessings,

~Brian