In the weeks surrounding Christmas, we enjoy singing a wealth of hymns and carols that we usually reserve for the month of December. Even though we can sing many by heart, or perhaps because we can sing many by heart, words, and phrases rich in meaning can roll off of our tongues without touching our hearts. The lyrics to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” specifically the words of the first verse, invite a little more thought than we usually give them.
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
We don’t know what all Pastor Phillip Brooks was thinking when he penned these words in 1868, but hopes and fears are universal emotions. They are powerful emotions. They are controlling emotions.
But many times hope and fear are at odds with each other. What hope longs to embrace, fear pushes just out of reach. Our hopes and fears collide, much like eternity collided with time many years ago in the village of Bethlehem.
How did the birth of Jesus answer the hopes and fears of Mary and Joseph?
At some point, sooner or later, all new parents experience that moment when they realize that this new little life is their unique responsibility. It can be a bit surreal. Holding your little one, it strikes you that a tremendous gift has been given to you, a gift that brings with it significant and life-altering responsibilities. And for many of us, a strange combination of fear and hope fills our hearts.
For Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus meant bringing Mary out of hiding and facing the scorn and disdain (of a child out of wedlock) that was inevitable. But a proper understanding of who Jesus was, made all the difference for Mary. When we read Mary’s song of praise found in Luke 1, we see plenty of reason she could have feared but chose to hope in God because of Jesus. Even though she was just a poor handmaiden, even though many years had passed since the promise, and even though the enemy had tried to destroy the holy seed, yet God triumphed and visited His people with a baby who was the Messiah.
Simeon was another man who found his hopes and fears met through the birth of Jesus. Just as many who lived before him, he waited for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). That is, he was waiting for the “Messiah” who is called “the consolation of Israel,” because He would give comfort to them by His appearing. It would seem that an Old Testament follower could have faced some fears regarding their salvation. Was the lamb I offered accepted? Are all of my sins actually covered? Is it enough? Will God certainly keep His covenant and send a perfect Lamb someday?
“Then [Simeon] took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:28-29). His fears and hopes were fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the things that became crystal clear through Jesus’ birth is the extent of God’s love. He made a radical investment in this world! His care, to the point of sending His Son to be born, live, die, and rise again, provides us with a model for dealing with our hopes and fears in a world so often full of despair and darkness.
The question that comes to us is: how are we dealing with our fears? Are we focusing on the darkness and gloom and losing hope? Or are we focusing on hope through Jesus and losing our fears?
This is an amazingly powerful message! Jesus Christ comforts our deepest fears and provides for us our greatest hope.
“Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1Pe 1:8-9).
Our deepest fear is death. Our greatest hope is eternal life spent fellowshipping with our Creator, the salvation of our souls. Truly, in Christ, the hopes and fears of all the years are met.
This Christmas, some of us will gather around fully spread tables and enjoy fellowship with family and those we love around us. But for others, the story may look much different. Some will gather in hospitals around the bedside of a loved one whose health is fragile or whose life is fleeing. Some may gather in their refugee camp with little more than an empty table. Some will meet in secret to worship the King who came as a baby. Others will share their Christmas with relatives who do not yet know King Jesus as their own Savior.
What is our responsibility? Would Jesus want us to share a part in the job of spreading hope and quelling fear? Of course, we have a role! Our work is to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and our message is a proclamation of Good News to all people! May we all first find our fears met in the One who was born as a baby in the quiet town of Bethlehem many years ago. But beyond that, may God help us “To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide [their] feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
North East, PA