We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
His Yoke Is Easy, His Burden Is Light
“His yoke is easy, and His burden light.”
There is a story that dates back to the earliest days of the church, to the second century Holy Land. The story tells how Jesus was famous for being a maker of “easy yokes”. People reportedly would come from miles around to the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth for Jesus to make yokes for their oxen. Jesus would spend considerable time measuring the oxen, their height, the width of their shoulders, and the distance between them standing side by side. Several days later, when the customer returned with his oxen, Jesus would present them with an “easy yoke”, that is, one perfectly fitted for them.
When the best known carpenter in Galilee started talking about making “easy yokes” for people, it must have caught everyone’s ear. For them, a yoke had always been a symbol of slavery, submission, and religious burdens to bear (Leviticus 26:13; Isaiah 58:6, 9; Acts 15:10). The yoke represented everything religion had become for the people: oppressive, crushing, and exhausting. But here comes the “easy yoke” maker from Galilee, promising lightness and rest!
Often, a younger, smaller ox was yoked with a larger, more experienced one, to learn how to walk in a yoke. The larger, seasoned ox bore the full weight of the burden as the younger walked by its side. Pulling together as a team, the “easy yoke” did not bruise or hurt the younger ox.
Similarly, the “easy yoke” maker from Galilee asks us to put our necks into the yoke with Him, walk with Him as He shoulders the load. Jesus does not promise a life burden free, because His own life was filled with rejection, abandonment, and disappointment. But Jesus does promise He will bear the load as we walk alongside Him.
Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote about his own walking and serving with Jesus, “striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29). All the pressure and the weight were off Paul. He knew that the Christian life was not about trying, but about trusting. The rule of Jesus’ Kingdom is: let Him bear the load.
As we come to the end of the Christmas section of Messiah, I am struck by the emphasis on lightness and joy for its conclusion (listen to today’s music!). The decision by Jennens and Handel to end the Christmas story here, is once again, genius. This is because the end, or goal of Messiah’s coming is that we live joyfully and lightly. It is the Fruit of His Spirit living within (Galatians 5:22-23).
Pondering and listening to Messiah has certainly challenged me to take stock, and ask if the life I am living is joyful and light. Can I say that Jesus makes light the burdens that I carry? If not, then I need to come back to the “easy yoke” Maker, and the life He measured and fitted just for me. I need to shed my rules and overwrought conscience, and learn once again to rest in Him, to know in my heart that I am loved. The yoke I wear is the yoke of His grace.
Today’s music completes the Christmas part of Messiah. This oratorio which began with God’s double command, “Comfort ye, comfort ye”, now ends with a yoke easy and light. With the heavy burden of religion and sin lifted, the people burst forth singing. This is the sound of people set free.
The chorus sings for all people, and the music is light, airy, with rapid runs like the music of a dance. The word “easy” is high, with an easy-going tempo, stretched out over many notes for emphasis. The “light” burden is sung in short, lilting bursts, and quickly let go each time.
But with the last chords we feel a sudden change in the music as it slows, becoming heavy, with a whisper of dissonance. Why the change from lightness to seriousness? Handel is preparing the listener for what follows in Part II: the suffering and Cross that lie ahead for Messiah. The composer is reminding us that while Messiah’s yoke is “easy” for us, it will be costly for Him. It will mean Messiah’s death.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.