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 all on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
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!
~ Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)
In the summer of 2007 I had the privilege of going on pilgrimage to Israel. It was with a group through Candler seminary. I like to describe our gaggle as 18 clergy and 3 adults. It was truly an amazing two-week trip. We were a week on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and a week in Jerusalem. We traveled around in a comfortable, chartered bus. I remember our guides showing us traditional site after traditional site of all the stories of my faith. I remember laughter. I remember tears. But mostly I remember our singing. We sang on the bus and on the shoreline. We sang at dawn and dusk. I can still hear the echoes of those amazing pilgrims. The Lord is my light and our salvation, whom shall I fear?
All through our trip we encountered the Palestinian Wall. The thing snaked its way along with us as we journeyed through the country. Soon, even when we couldn't see it, we still felt its presence. Sometimes it was a part of our conversations, sometimes not. But always it was there. Threatening. Ugly. Separating. Conquering. We met people whose families were separated. We met people who had to daily show different forms of paperwork to pass through to the other side. We saw 18-year-old girl and boy soldiers with guns ordering elders to do this-and-that and putting them in their place. We saw that. We witnessed time after time what a Separation Wall can do to polarize groups of human beings from one another. And through our time in Israel, we sang.
One day we journeyed south of Jerusalem into Bethlehem. We took steps down beneath the Church of the Nativity to the traditional site of the Jesus’ birth. There, too we sang. The words rolled through the tiny space and time stood still: Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. There, in the silence following the signing, we imaged what it must have been like to hear this baby’s first cry.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come to this place where we continue to build walls. Come to this place where we look past one another and cannot see. Come where ancient carols still echo in our hearts. Come, Lord Jesus, come.