Oh 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.
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
I’m wondering as I’m wandering and thinking about how grateful I am for Christmas carols. Every year these carols are comforting and guiding companions for this season. Most every year there is one carol that seems to pull up a chair and stay for a while. Most every year there is a melody or a phrase that lingers a little bit longer in my heart.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee…
Hopes and fears. Pairs. Side-by-siders. #Wouldn’tbeherewithoutyou’s. Left and right footers. What goes up must come down’ers. Hope paired with fear would not necessarily be my first inclination for a companioning Christmas carol’s phrase. But as I sit with this phrase now, I’m wondering why not? and thinking of course. It’s not that they are opposites. They lend themselves to the notion of breathing in and breathing out. There is a bond-shared between the two, almost like an ongoing, this-may-take-us-a-lifetime-to-understand conversation. Hope empathizes with fear and fear knows well the struggles abiding within hope. Now they meet one another here on the way to Bethlehem and these words are lingering in me.
And I’m wondering about and wandering beside the phrase of all the years. When I try to imagine all the voices who’ve lent themselves to this song over all the years…it’s a heart-warming task. Imagine the boots pulled up and scarfs wrapped `round necks as these words have been sung on snowy neighborhood streets; candle-lit chapels with services on dark December nights; in front of fireplaces with wood popping and hot chocolate steaming. Years of rumors of wars and promises of peace. Years of babies welcomed home and a now-empty chair at the table. Years of pencil marks made in the doorway leading into the kitchen bearing witness to an inch or two grown and another year passed. All the years.
Maybe for me the carol’s gift is in the recognition, the ah-ha of my hopes and my fears meeting one another. Here in Bethlehem, we are promised an intersecting. Here an interconnection, as if for the first time. Neither hope nor fear overshadowing the other. Neither demanding too much. Instead, here they meet and continue on together, walking side-by-side. Hope and fear meeting – as if for the first time – in a manger behind a crowded inn in Bethlehem. Perhaps this carol has been singing her message to me since my first hearing as a child. Perhaps it’s taken me this much life to listen and appreciate. It feels like I am hearing now its message for the first time: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
So, we continue on to Bethlehem. Some wondering and wandering more than others. Each knowing her heart’s own hopes, his heart’s own fears. For centuries now we’ve been promised that something life-changing will be happening in Bethlehem. We are getting closer. I can feel it in my bones, I can hear it singing in my heart. Right foot, left foot.
Holy One who sings our songs for us long before we can sing them for ourselves. Holy and gracious One, your compassion for all your children is beyond our understanding and as close to each of us as our very next breath. God of our stories and our songs, we are so very grateful. Amen.