We sang this song tonight, on Christmas Eve, and each line seemed to capture this season and year, and my hopes for the year to come more and more as the music progressed. From beginning to end, the city and people and world described in this carol aren't that different from the cities and people and world we find ourselves in today, two thousand years since Jesus was born and two hundred years since the lyrics were first penned.
We sang the lyrics to a song I probably memorized as a child, but this time I saw myself in the storyline that unfolded. Suddenly, Christmas seemed necessary, more than ever.
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth
Long lay the world, in sin an error pining
Oh, what a year it has been.
I wanted to list all the things that hurt this year in this post. The moments that left us broken and aching and tired. But maybe it's time to let those things be in the past, the hard moments of 2017 that we don't have to keep reliving next year.
Whatever side of the political spectrum you find yourself on, whatever form of religion you choose to participate in, however you best see Jesus - those differences that we love to elevate immediately vanish when we remember we are all prone to being hurt, to hurting others, and that we desperately long for our broken world to be healed.
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
The soul felt it's worth. A weary world rejoices.
Did John Sullivan Dwight, the writer of the version I included here, know that in 2017 we would be a world weary and in need of something new? Something worth rejoicing? Did he suspect that we would be bombarded with headlines and trends and standards that would make us feel anything but worthy?
It's easy to feel stuck. Like there's nothing we can do: this is the world we live in and we better get used to the violence and terror and hate. Even as a believer, it's easy to sum it up to the fall and hope for Jesus to come quickly.
But maybe that's not how we're supposed to live. Maybe Heaven on Earth is possible even in the midst of horrible things. Maybe that's the point. Maybe Jesus came to Earth two thousand years ago and never really left.
John 14:27 reminds me that He didn't leave us here, in a mess that we're doomed to live with, with no hope that things could change. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
So what do we do, in the meantime? We live with peace, we walk with Jesus, but we're still here in a world that doesn't always feel peaceful and Heaven-like.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel's voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
I love the format of this particular carol. The description of the world Jesus was about to be a part of, the broken world we still live in. The refrain of praise. The story of His birth, the reminder of why He came to Earth. The refrain of praise. Always the refrain of praise.
That's where the hope lies.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
We got to this part during the Christmas Eve service, and my heart lifted. We've heard it before: Christmas is a season of hope, and I don't know that I've ever needed it more than now. That we've ever needed it more than now.
The Christmas story has the possibility of getting old. It's the same story every year, and we memorize the details and sing the songs and suddenly it's the New Year and we forgot what we just celebrated.
We miss the hope.
Tonight nothing changed in my world. Only my perspective on it as we walk into the new year. The constant need for hope, yes. But only followed but the constant refrain of praise.
Hope. Praise. Evermore proclaim.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.