O Little Town of Bethlehem
“The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in Thee tonight”
Finding New Joy in Christmas Carols with Elizabeth Rice Handford
Was Bethlehem really so quiet that first Christmas night as described in “O Little Town of Bethlehem”?
If you visited it today, you might find its streets dark at night. Though it’s only six miles south of Jerusalem, it’s in the West Bank, so visitors have a hassle trying to get through the two national barriers.
But the night Jesus was born it certainly wasn’t a quiet city. It was so crowded with people forced to go to their ancestral home towns by Caesar’s census, that Joseph couldn’t even rent a quiet room to shelter his pregnant wife.
And so, according to God’s eternal plan, the little baby Jesus was born in a stable and laid on a bed of straw in a cattle feeder. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the depth of that mystery: in His precious little body rested “the hopes and fears of all the years.”
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.
Fears? Oh, yes! Every human being who ever lived has experienced great fear: fear of hunger, of thirst, of disease, of abandonment, of loss. But even greater fear: the fear of inevitable death, and even more frightening, the fear of eternal condemnation, cut off forever from the awesome God who is just and fair, but who punishes sin.
Hopes? Oh, yes! Every human being who ever lived has harbored hope: hope that there is meaning in life beyond our simple creature needs. But even more important, hope that someway we can be reconciled to the awesome God who created us with such love and care.
And those hopes and fears of all humanity were met that blessed night in Jesus, God Himself.
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.
How were those hopes and fears vanquished? The answer is so simple, so profound, we may miss it in its familiarity:
For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved.