O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in they dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
~ Phillip Brooks (probably written 1868 after visit from Philadelphia to Bethlehem)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
Christ is born! Alleluia! The angels are singing, bells are ringing. Today is the day when we are reminded of love that comes in the most unexpected ways and stays. Entering into Bethlehem we are reminded of God's YES, that is always with us, even we aren't sure. Even when we are too tired to believe it. Even when we doubt that we will be able to catch our next breath. God's promise of Emmanuel, I will always be with you - is born in Bethlehem this day.
Hopes and fears. Side-by-side. Two sisters who have journeyed with us each step of the way to Bethlehem. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. Grief enters in and moves through. What is true for me and maybe also for you is that I would have described “hope” and “fear” differently when this journey began. Now I have come to understand ways that they companion one another most all of the way, weaving in and through one another.
Hopes and fears come together well in a birth story. Together they encircle every new birth. When Linda was pregnant with Brogan, soon I knew that life was about to change. "How?" I didn't have a clue. But I knew that what had been regular and routine and "normal," would forever be defined in a new way. There were possibilities of delight and deep joy, truly the hope of more light coming. And so many things fearful were right beside. All of the "what if's..." of her pregnancy and then of who this child would be in my life, in the world. Not able to be explained. Fears difficult to find language for naming. Hopes and fears joined. The sweet boy turned 21 in September and I will be the first to say, every day I am so grateful that he is in the world. AND his brother.
Our Advent encouragement bumper stickers: "Pay attention." "Stay awake!" "Not yet" are life gifts from this journey. We need to continue to carry them with us past Bethlehem. Because the truth is, as important as it was for us to make this pilgrimage, this is not where our ending place. Soon, and you will know when it's time, soon it will be time to set your course and set off in a new direction. Left foot, right foot.
All along the way grief has been our irritating, aggravating, informing, nudging, heart-breaking companion. Grief is scary and messy and numbing and cruel. And love is bigger. Grief is disheartening and disarming and demoralizing. And love is bigger. Grief most of the time feels like it’s all that there is, and it turns out that it is not. Always, always walking beside is love.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 5)
Blessed Christmas to you this day. I am so very grateful that you have shared this journey, shared these December days. I am grateful for your companioning with me on this uphill climb that was first endured and somehow shifted, for me, along the way. May you be surprised by joy and held in love. May you know that peace that enters in unexpected and passes all possibilities and understandings. May you take comfort and strength in coming to understand perhaps for the first time Emmanuel, God-with-us. May God bless you on this Christmas Day.