The Whole World Send Back the Song

This is an excerpt from “12 Days of Christmas Carols,” a devotional which unpacks lines of familiar Christmas carols you’ve sung for years but perhaps have never really thought about.

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

This third verse of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” might be my all-time favorite stanza of any Christmas carol (or, at least, is in serious competition with every verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). I love this particular verse because it so clearly captures the deepest meaning of Christmas, and ties it to my deepest longings. Christmas is about the new creation.

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with depression, including several long stretches of desperate darkness. Even on my best days, I’m haunted by a restless ache that never goes away, a sense that both I and the world itself are fundamentally out of joint. I’m stalked by a loneliness and homesickness that never goes away, no matter how many friends I have or how comfortable I am. I can’t shake the sense that this is not the way the world is supposed to be.

The single greatest comfort of my life is the Bible’s assurance that I’m not crazy– that this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be, and that one day what’s wrong will be put right. The whole creation is groaning, Romans 8 tells me, but one day will be set free from its bondage to futility and obtain the freedom and glory of God’s children. Revelation 21 holds out a vision of a new heaven and new earth swallowing up death and sadness forever. Isaiah’s prophecies speak of a day when this groaning world will come alive with such gladness that the mountains and hills will burst forth into singing, and join the everlasting song of the redeemed (Isaiah 55:12).

I have literally staked my life on these promises. They are my anchor in the storm, my north star in the darkness. When all around my soul gives way, the end of the story is my hope and stay. And, increasingly, the end of the story is what I love about Christmas.

Christmas is about the new creation. It is the opening salvo of heaven’s war of restoration, the rightful King landing on an enemy-occupied shore to wrest control of the cosmos out of the hands of Genesis’ rebel serpent and back into submission to God’s kingdom. The story of Christmas leads us to the cross, where the serpent’s head was crushed, and the empty tomb, where the victorious King stepped over all his captors and unleashed a new creation into the old one. Today, that new creation is spreading through the world, bursting up like flowers in the hearts of God’s people, shining through the cracks in our lives, and coming together in the communities of the local and global church. One day, the Prince of Peace will return with a sword to vanquish every enemy of peace and remake the world to be a perfect home for his people again. And on that day, the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace as their rightful King, and the whole restored world will echo with the glad song of the angels, drowning out sadness forever: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

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