For many of us Advent gathers many of our most cherished traditions. Each year holds memories of things we have done throughout our lives. Bringing home a Christmas tree and carefully placing each decoration. Hot chocolate with mounds of marshmallows. Cookies baking in the kitchen. These activities may be more tender this year because our loved one is missing.
With the holiday season comes a busyness that can push us to an emotional edge. There are commercials running day and night on television that urge us to buy more and more and more. There is music playing round the clock, “have a holly, jolly Christmas.” And sometimes all we want to do is jump off the merry-go-round and stop. Just stop and catch our breath.
And gracefully at the best of times an ancient carol enters in and invites us to take a heart-break. We are given an opening to savor a rest from it all. “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The imagine of the little town of Bethlehem that many of us carry in our hearts can provide a respite, even a sanctuary. It’s quiet there. It is peaceful there. It holds a place where stars can shine through the darkness.
The hopes and fears of all the years. Our hopes and fears journeying with us this year. Both/all are held in this ageless song.
For centuries this song has been sung at Christmas time. Year after year old and young, healthy and fragile ones sing this song and remember. When we are grieving hopes and fears often walk side-by-side. They are both unexpected and perfect companions for the journey. If we were always fearful, we probably wouldn’t have the strength to get out of bed in the morning. And if we were always hopeful, I know our tender hearts would most probably break each day. These two words never exclude one another. Instead, they journey through our lives join along-side one another each step of the way.
Hopes and fears of all our years meet most every night. It is true. We bring both to the season when promises are remembered. Both are again imprinted on our weary spirits. As we continue our journey to the manger in Bethlehem, may this melody enter in and carry us when we are weary. And when you find yourself humming softly, “O little town of Bethlehem,” think gently of these words. Remember that these words have held you your whole life and know that you are always, always held in love.
Holy, living God, you have created us and are creating still. Each hour, each day you are with us. In our hopes and in our fears, you are with us. We lean into your lovingkindness today. In these tender days, Emmanuel, sing again this ancient chorus, for we long for the song of Bethlehem. Amen.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan (now a freshman at Guilford College) and Sam at sophomore at DHS in Decatur, GA.