"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."
With these words Phillips Brooks has touched hearts at Christmas time in more ways than I can fully imagine.
This blog is about how all of life's experiences (good and bad, controversial and sublime, uplifting and challenging, ... they all come together in the One born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem.
I invite your comments, challenges, suggestions, and whatever else you have to share!
To start things off, here is a reprint of the blog entry I posted today for the church! Enjoy
The entire nation had been in the crushing grip of a deadly and devastating civil war. At the conclusion of that war, a broken and bleeding nation attempted to come back together under the singular banner of hope that had once guided it only to have its leader assassinated. The frightening cost of war and tremendous destruction left in its path left the entire nation gasping for hope amid looming economic uncertainty.
It was then that pastor Phillips Brooks took a sabbatical leave from his congregation to make a pilgrimage to another land. He carried with him the pastoral hopes and fears of a nation languishing in the aftermath of crisis, division, mistrust, and hatred. Brooks wished to reconnect with his faith and find hope for his church back home.
Brooks’ travels took him on horseback to the darkened streets of a small village. It was Christmas Eve 1865 and looking down those dark streets he recalled that in them once shown a great light, an Everlasting Light, Emmanuel!
In the last year Books had seen the bloody end of the American Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln. Even amid the tenuous truce, long-held tensions and hatred between North and South always threatened to blow wide apart! Differing attitudes and expectations regarding the role former slaves would play in the newly reunited nation further exacerbated the political, cultural, and social tension tugging at the hearts of an already bleeding nation.
Thankfully, as I look at our nation nearly 150 years later, I am grateful to say that the troubles we face are nothing like the catastrophic healing that faced the fledgling nation in 1865. Yet there is a lot of healing needed today!
The economy may be turning the corner, but unemployment remains increasingly high. We live in a land with the world’s most sophisticated health care system but affordable access to this system remains a challenge for many. In the wake of the most contentious mid-term election in memory, the political strands of this nation remain bitterly divided.
The prayerful experience Brooks had on the darkened streets of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1865 ultimately led him to pen the poetic, and prophetic, words of one of the season’s most beloved carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Truly, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the singular event that is Jesus Christ. Yet, amid the fear and uncertainty of the day, let us cling to the hope present in the Everlasting Light, hear those Christmas Angels, and together proclaim the good news that in Christ there is peace on earth.
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.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
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.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillips Brook, 1868. Traditionally sung to the tune of ST. LOUIS (188.8.131.52) byt Lewis H. Redner, 1868.