All This Weary World


Post Author: Melissa Bills

We were honored to receive an offer from Rev. Isabel Rivera to translate into Spanish the meditation portion of this very popular piece. Rev. Rivera is a PC(USA) pastor in Houston, Texas, where she will also offer this translation as a Christmas Eve meditation for her congregation.

Isabel often preaches bilingually - alternating English paragraphs with their Spanish translation, as it is formatted here. Thank you to Rev. Rivera for her translation, and to Rev. Bills for a piece that has moved so many.


an ink drawing and watercolor picture on paper of the nativity of Jesus

A breath of Yuletide

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is one of those hidden-gem Christmas carols that we do not sing as often as other favorites, like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” or “O Come All Ye Faithful” or “Away in a Manger.” If we know it at all, we might know the first verse by heart and, even then, we might fumble the words at the end.

But the tender heart of this carol lies beyond the first verse. After you sing that first perfectly nice stanza about angels singing at midnight of peace on earth, you enter into a second and third stanza that sing of the burdens of our world and the longings of our hearts:

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.

And you, 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!

I am struck by the compassion that these heavenly angels have for the weary world; for its sad, exhausted, lowly places; for those whose forms are bending low beneath the crushing load of life; for those who seek rest, those who are tired.

The Christmas story, from the plodding donkey making his way to Bethlehem to shepherds on the night watch, is first and foremost a story told by tired people for the sake of tired people.

Are you feeling tired this season?

Maybe you are tired like a donkey. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You do holy and essential work, but work that is tiring nevertheless. Your back is tired. You walk a long road shouldering other people’s expectations and dreams. You are weary from the journey. You plod through this life as a beast of burden. Even as you are loved and appreciated for your work, your body and your soul yet long for deep rest, for restoration.

Are you feeling tired this season?

Maybe you are tired like a shepherd. You sit awake at night, keeping watch over what is precious or helpless. You work nights while others sleep. You keep mental lists. The tasks of the day run through your head, even in deepest dark. You watch the clock. You watch the stars. You try to balance your own rest and well-being with the needs of those who depend on you. You crave one, good, uninterrupted night of sleep where you are free to rest, to dream, to leave the lists and the anxieties behind.

Are you feeling tired this season?

Maybe you are tired like an innkeeper. Your routine and your sleep cycle keep getting interrupted. You feel tired of crowds, of the bustle, of the stuff, of the “too much-ness” going on about you. You live your vocation. You provide for others. But your inn is full and your resources are depleted. You want a nap. You want the city to rest. You want all creation to take a deep, cleansing breath. You want everything to slow down.

Are you feeling tired this season?

Maybe you are tired like Joseph. You care for those whom you love, even when it is hard. You keep up with the demands of work and family and empire. You find yourself on difficult journeys that were not of your own choosing. You long for a safe place to rest. You seek a temporary release from the obligations put upon you, the good ones and the hard ones and the oppressive ones alike.

Are you feeling tired this season?

Maybe you are tired like Mary. You bear hope, even when it is exhausting. You say, “Here am I” as you offer your whole self to the call of love and service and sacrifice. You sing for justice and your voice is wearing out. You know what it is to be both weary and expectant. You know the pain of bringing new life into the world. You are summoned awake by crying in the middle of the night. You know the needs and hungers of the world. You want the world to hush, to cease its strife. You want a world at rest, a cosmos at peace with itself.

Are you feeling tired this season?

Then come to the manger. Follow the star. Hear the song of the angels. Cuddle up in the straw with the barn cats and the watchful sheep and the restless goats.

For here, in the manger, is a baby, new-born, opening his sleepy eyes to the world.

There is no weariness, no exhaustion of body or spirit that this baby will not experience in his lifetime; there is no weakness or despair that this baby will not ultimately redeem and refresh.

This is the point of Christmas.

Jesus did not choose to enter into a perfectly-caffeinated, awake, alert, ready-for-a-savior world. Jesus entered into our weary, bleary-eyed, tired-of-the-babel-sounds, desperate-for-a-savior world.

Into the very heart of the middle of the night, God broke open the sleeping skies with the cries of a baby that woke his mother and shook the foundations of the earth. The song of the angels awoke the world to a new vision of hope for all creation.

To all you who are tired, take heart. You will not be tired forever. Even now, in whatever your present weariness, you are yet blessed by the God who comes near to walk all of your weary roads alongside you.

May the world slow down enough this season for you to catch a glimpse of a star in the sky and a light on the horizon.

May the earth pause enough for you to catch the faint sound of a baby’s cry on the wind and the song of the angels through the trees.

May the slow time of Christmas night bring joy to you, and hope, and light, and more than anything else, rest to your waiting spirit.

All you, 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!


Melissa Bills is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and is currently serving First Lutheran Church in Decorah, Iowa.


Image by: brainflower
Used with permission
5 replies
  1. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    This is such a beautiful reflection, and speaks so deeply to where I am, and where my congregation is. With your permission, I would like to share this message in worship on Sunday, of course attributing it to you.
    May I do this?

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Melissa Bills, “All This Weary World,” December 18, 2018, as found at https://youngclergywomen.org/all-this-weary-world/ on December 18, […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *