Each year I seem to have a moment when I discover (or rediscover) the words of a lesser known verse of an old Christmas carol. It’s no wonder—there are many verses we don’t sing of even the most beloved Christmas carols. (Realistically, who is going to take the time to sing all nine verses of “The First Noel”?) Some of these less popular verses, though, I find to be my favorites. This year, it was verses three and four of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”
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.
For lo, the days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.
And here, in these two verses, is encapsulated both the trial and hope of life. Christmas is more than “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night,” and even within our carols we find the reality of pain and suffering.
We live in a world still broken by the Curse—we toil, we bleed, we weep. Our hope, the Kingdom of God, a new heaven and a new earth, has not yet fully arrived. Christ won the Kingdom and our salvation, and we can begin to live into its reality now, but we look forward to its full and final inauguration.
Until then, we live in this already-but-not-yet reality. The Kingdom is here—but not fully. We still feel “life’s crushing load.” We are still brought low. But thanks be to God that we have a sure hope in the coming Kingdom, in which there will be no tears, no pain, no darkness, no death. We can have joy today because we look forward to a day in which the whole world will see Christ our King rightfully ruling on his throne.
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7)