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.
An episcopal priest name Phillips Brooks wrote the lyrics to this classic hymn in the years following a visit to Bethlehem in the late nineteenth century. Though the British use a different tune across the pond, St. Louis, the one used in the United States was actually the original one written for the stanzas by Brooks’ own collaborator, Lewis Redner. And its melody continues to be the lullaby we all want to hear throughout Advent and Christmas, year after year.
We want the gentle peace of the quiet town on the hillside that we picture every time we hear this song. We long for its warmth and comfort. We wish to see it with our own eyes, because our hearts are longing for the true hope it represents.
It is a rather fascinating line at the end of the first stanza: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee.” It is very true, though, isn’t it?
Whenever something this important comes along, this earth-shattering, this life-altering, we stake everything on it. Not just our hopes for a better tomorrow. But we also let go of our fears that have kept us going through all the turmoil that this world has to offer. We put everything we have on the line. We do it because we know that something this big offers us a chance like never before.
Now that was certainly true two thousand years ago. But what about the fact that we are simply singing this same carol on repeat every Christmas?
Well, what if Christmas offers us the chance to start over that we are so desperately needing? What if lifting up the birth of the Christ-child gives us yet another opportunity to stake everything on the welcoming arms of our loving God? What if providence is giving us all we need to put our hopes and fears on the line again, and begin anew?
What if that little town of Bethlehem lives within all of us and every year God offers us the key to the city, our hearts made open so that God’s love can be set loose upon this broken and hurting world?
Just imagine what it would be like then, when the Christ-child is truly born in us. Perhaps that is the miracle this song is meant to remind us of – a miracle that is already waiting in our hearts.