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  • Matt Beaney

#709. IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR (12/12/22)

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Leading up to Christmas Day, I thought it would be good to look at 15 of the most popular carols (chosen by Classic FM listeners) and consider the content and what we can learn from them.

A reflection based on IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, number 10 in our chart of most popular carols.


LYRICS

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 men, From Heav’n’s all-gracious King.” The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.


Still through the cloven skies they come With peaceful wings unfurled, And still their heav’nly music floats O’er all the weary world; Above its sad and lowly plains, They bend on hov’ring wing, And ever o’er its Babel sounds The blessed angels sing.


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; Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife And hear the angels sing.


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. Oh, rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing!


For lo! the days are hast’ning on, By prophet seen of old,

When with the ever-circling years Shall come the time foretold When Christ shall come and all shall own The Prince of Peace, their King, And saints shall meet Him in the air, And with the angels sing.

PEACE ON THE EARTH

The carol begins with a retelling of the birth of Christ. We are reminded of the angels' song:

“Peace on the earth, good will to men, From Heav’n’s all-gracious King.”

This is a moment of joy and hope. In the following 3 verses, this idyllic vision is set in contrast with the continued suffering in the world because so many fail to listen to the message of Peace with God through Christ that was announced that first Christmas. We read of this moment in Luke 2:8-16

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.’ (Luke 2:8-16)

THE ANGELS CONTINUE TO SING OF PEACE

In the second verse, we sing of angels continuing to sing over the ‘babel sounds’ (the confused cacophony of the nations). This is poetic; The angels continue to worship Jesus and to assist God in His mission to glorify Jesus in the earth. God continues to speak in any way that’s needed of the peace we can have through Christ.


HUSH THE NOISE TO ENJOY GOD’S PEACE

In verses 3-4, we are given a picture of our world that continues in ‘sin…strife…suffering…wrong…war…noise…life’s crushing load…bending low…toil…painful steps…on the weary road.’

Despite the truth of peace and joy that the angels bring, many in the world miss it. We are all being extorted not to miss it! To enjoy the peace that Christ brings we all need to ‘hush the noise’ and hear the message of peace with God that the angels announce to us.


CHRIST SHALL COME WITH ETERNAL PEACE

The carol ends with the hope of Jesus’ return and our joining the angels in eternal worship. The idyllic picture in verse 1 is brought to realisation at the end of this carol; The angels and men from different ethnic groups united in worshipping Jesus on that first Christmas will be a reality that fills the earth. We are told that:

The days are hast’ning on, By prophet seen of old…’

Isaiah, for example, spoke of the peace and reign of Christ that will be established:


‘Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’ (Isaiah 9:5-7)

RESPONSE - HUSH THE NOISE

How can you and I ‘hush the noise’ of this world and the demands of many that keep us from enjoying the peace that we have through Christ?


TAKE A MOMENT TO LISTEN TO THIS CAROL:


 

COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY

1. Notices

It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.

 

2. Icebreaker

What has God been speaking to you about from your Bible reading recently?

 

3. Recap of Sunday's message - please share in your group


This study is based upon our carol service on Sunday.


1. THE CHRISTMAS PROBLEM

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.’ (Matthew 1:18-19)

All of us have problems. Christmas often highlights our difficulties. Jesus was coming into the world to bring great joy, but, initially, all that Mary and Joseph could see on that first Christmas were their big problems.


  • ROMANS: Jesus is born into a nation that has been invaded and are being controlled by a foreign power.

  • PREGNANT: Mary, a virgin, is pregnant and not by Joseph her Fiancé! This was a disgrace in their culture.

  • DIVORCE: He was going to ‘divorce her quietly’ - end their engagement.

  • STABLE & MANGER: He was going to be born in a stable and manger because they were poor and disrespected. This is far from ideal!

  • HATED: Herod was going to try to kill Jesus. They are going to have to escape to Egypt and live in a foreign land as refugees.

They had a lot of problems on that first Christmas.


2. THE CHRISTMAS SOLUTION

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:20-21)

For us to handle our troubles with peace, like Joseph and Mary, God wants us to know what Jesus’ name means. His name means 'God saves.'

In their many problems that first Christmas, they are told that joy will come by knowing His name is Jesus.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, names had meanings that you wanted the child to have. God gives Him the name Jesus because that’s what He will be - the Saviour.


3. RECIEVE GOD'S SOLUTION

'All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.’ (Matthew 1:22-25)

In our troubles, to know peace, we have to actually receive Jesus into our lives by putting our faith in His name. We must name Him Jesus - God who saves - for ourselves. Like Joseph, we have to 'wake up' and 'give Him the name Jesus'.


This Christmas, may we give Him the name ‘Jesus’ - may we believe that Jesus is our Saviour and invite Him into our lives.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

i. Did you feel that God spoke to you from any particular aspect of Sunday's message?

ii. What are the 'names' or titles given to Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25?

ii. How does knowing the various names and titles given to Jesus help us in our lives?

iii. What other names can you think of that are given to God or Jesus?

iv. How can you grow in knowing God's names better?


PRAYER AND SIV

SIV - Do you have any encouraging stories of sharing your faith?

SIV- Let's pray for those that God has put on our hearts.






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