What are your hopes tonight? What are those things you most want? Who are the people you miss, those you desire to see, to be in the presence of or perhaps the one you desire to love?
What are your fears tonight? What were they as a child, as a young adult, or what do you think your fears will be in the future?
We all have hopes and fears. I know, you might think this is an odd question on Christmas Eve, but wouldn’t it make sense to face the negative in the midst of an even greater “positive?” This is the most “positive” time of the year! If ever there was a time appropriate to face our fears and to gain more hope, this is it!
The Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehemwas written by Phillip Brooks in 1867, two years after he had visited the Holy Land and had ridden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865 to participate in a five hour service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem!
The hymn has not merely endured through the years, but it has come to be one of the most favorite of all of the hymns of this season. The words Brooks wrote so vividly describe the city of the Saviors birth.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” We can even imagine the six-foot-six-inch Brooks descending from the hillsides on horseback into the town with only candles and fires for illumination. The stars slid across the night sky in the matching silence that was evident in the town.
Yet the imagination of Phillip Brooks is all too evident in the first stanza of this beloved song: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
There it is again, “the hopes and fears.” It isn’t merely the hopes and fears we each have with us tonight, it is the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Brooks understood the majesty of the gift given at the point in time which literally split time in half: the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Living water, the Bread of life and the Light of the world—it is this Jesus, our Messiah who provided the everlasting light within the dark streets of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
The Creator of all which exists, the Lord of this Universe came as a baby, was placed in a feeding trough in the midst of livestock. He will never come to this world again in such a helpless and vulnerable state. The angels told the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”
His mother was carried to Bethlehem on a donkey, but when Jesus the Messiah returns it will be on a white horse and He will destroy those who oppose Him through His Word—have you ever wondered why the Bible refers to itself as the sword of Truth!
Think now of all of our hopes and fears—indeed, think of all of the hopes and fears of all time, from people everywhere! Every single hope is made real in the person of Jesus Christ! Hope isn’t a mere idea, it is a person. We hope, we trust, we know what will happen, not just because this is what we want, but because it is promised in the person of our Lord!
In the face, in the midst of such incredible hope, how can any fear yet remain? What fear can stand in the brightness of an “everlasting Light?” You’re afraid of darkness? He is the Light of this world! You fear fire? He is living water, quenching heat, thirst and dryness of the body and the soul.
Are you afraid of hungering for something you cannot have? He is the bread of life which satisfies every spiritual hunger which often motivates our physical ones. Fear lack and financial ruin? He tells us of mansions He is building in Heaven, how our treasure is there, and no moth or rust can ever destroy it!
We celebrate the greatest valentine ever given on Christmas Day! Because God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to give us the ability to live eternally with Him!
Just as the gifts under the tree are no good until they are taken and opened, until they are used, until the change how we live, and then those gifts which make the most difference, we never cease to give thanks to the one who gave them!
Tonight, we come to prepare our hearts for the greatest gift ever given. Unlike the gifts under the tree, this gift will remake all who accept it. It will never grow old, never wear out, and it will always amaze those who have it. Its power split time in half, it changes us from orphans to adopted sons and daughters. And there is nothing we as humans can ever get another which will give us life everlasting like the gift the Father has given to this world.
There are those who find this thought silly, even unsophisticated. Yet in this is a sad truth: Those who have this gift, know; those who do not have it, do not know.