Countdown to Christmas: Day 5. "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Bethlehem, just a few miles outside of Jerusalem, is a quiet town. Except when it isn’t. It lies on the border of Israel and the West Bank; it sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s nestled in the southern part of the Judaean Mountains and, on starless nights, the sky is black.
On a recent visit to Bethlehem, my sleep was dreamless, but interrupted. It’s not uncommon for street demonstrations to take place on Hebron Road by the imposing guard tower and concrete barrier. Eventually, soldiers disperse the small crowd with tear gas. The pop-pop-pop-BANG and BANG-silence-BANG-BANG, remind me that while I’m not in any danger, the hopes and fears of Bethlehem are very much alive.
It’s in these dark, smoke-filled, acrid-smelling streets, that the everlasting Light shines. Jesus arrives in Bethlehem, a simple hillside town, with actual people, not some far away, fairy tale kingdom. But it’s the beauty of what happens at these specific coordinates that gives hope to the whole of all creation.
Listen to this line again: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Which hopes and fears? All of them. For the millions who had lived before that night and the billions who come after it. Every hope, every aspiration, every nightmare suffered, every trauma endured - is met in this moment.
Catch it once more: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Christmas doesn’t dispel every fear, nor does it fulfill every hope. But, in the person of Jesus, it intersects them. “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” If it’s true, I can pray this: “Lord, enter into my rich hopes and dark fears. Walk with me as I journey into them and through them and with them.”
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