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!
I heard the final verse to this old hymn while driving through a familiar part of the city. I’m not often inclined to nostalgia or melancholy, but on those streets with these words at that time in this moment, the feelings set in.
The streets of a city that’s owned a decade of your life tell stories of love, loss, joy, pain, sickness, health, poverty, and plenty. And with each passing block, an old memory waved its hand as if to say “Remember me? Now you do.”
Memories tend to well up in the holiday season. Visions of fresh cookies, big hugs, twinkle lights, and crooning voices dance in your head. Those are sweet. Others start out that way, but time out in the open turns them sour. The hugs were nice until the arguments started, the song was pleasant until the third verse, our time together was nice until we felt the absence of loved ones. The worst ones are bitter from the beginning and unsettle your gut to the end. Tragedy, unmet expectations, lack of thoughtfulness, unforgivable words, or inoperable loneliness.
You may have felt something similar to what I did that night. You think of old friends or relationships or seasons or jobs and then in an instant you’re met with the track-stopping realization life is still broken.
There you are – beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow.
I can’t imagine what feels crushing to you this Christmas season; I’m sure your weariness is multifaceted. What causes your shoulders to slump today? How difficult and exhausting are your labors? Does your progress in life feel sluggish and agonizing? Do you long for relief from these woes?
The collective cosmos is under the crushing load of sin and death. I feel it more this year than ever before. Easier now to hide behind the curtains of my eyelids than to see the pain and anxiety of this world ever before me.
Look now! Says the angel to Mary, who humbly bows in service to her God (Luke 1:26-38).
Look now! Says the angel to Joseph, who trusts the Spirit created life in the womb of his betrothed (Matthew 1:20-24).
Look now! Say the angels to the shepherds, lowly in status but full of faith in the promised Messiah (Luke 2:9-20).
Look now! Says Simeon, as he declares salvation has come to all the earth (Luke 2:25-35).
Look now! Say the wise men, who know the true King now has breath in His lungs (Matthew 2:2-12).
Look now! Says Anna, who needs no sight to know redemption is here (Luke 2:36-38).
Look now! Says God, wrapped in our weakness, born with bones and blurry eyes, here to save.
Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.
Life’s crushing load faces a crushing blow in the golden hour of Jesus’s birth — this child is the swift promise of salvation.
Look to Him! See this baby, so unlike the Savior we anticipated, yet everything we need. Jesus breaks through the thickest darkness and fills the earth with golden light. The Savior enters earth swiftly, not a moment too soon or too late. We do not look to Jesus so we can pretend the world is perfect. Rather, we look to Him to see exactly how much this world is broken. The Incarnation sounds the trumpet of our desperate need for a Savior acquainted with grief (Is 53:3). He is here and He will save.
And yet you might still find life too difficult to bear. You may want to quit this grueling path because it doesn’t seem worth all the sorrow. You may want to give in to sin since the satisfaction you were promised in Jesus is harder to grasp than you expected. You may feel powerless to keep all the commandments of Jesus.
God’s answer to you is not “work harder” or “do better.”
It is first to look now, and it is then to rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!
We rest because we know we cannot earn our salvation (Ephesians 2:8).
We rest because Jesus’ load is so much lighter than our own (Matthew 11:28-30).
We rest because the baby we celebrate at Christmas will be tempted by sin, never give in, and lay down His life, providing a way for us to receive help (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The dark and weary road may bludgeon us with memories that remind us of the sorrows of this world. But joy has dawned upon the world, the sun makes its way to the horizon, the golden beams begin to pierce through the darkest night. Swiftly, swiftly comes the Promised One. Crumble to your knees on the side of the road. Look now at your God! Rest in His unfailing promises! Listen to the songs of praise!
Hear the angels sing:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people he favors!