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.
I have always loved this simple Christmas carol. The line about the dark streets says so much in so few words. I am not sure what the author meant, but for me the dark streets are those times when the journey of life is shrouded in sorrow, loss, suffering, confusion, hardship, injustice, or grief. This sentiment reminds me of the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 who is with the psalmist as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death (or “the darkest valley” as the NIV translates).
I knew that the journey of life could get pretty dark. Many of you have shared with me some of your deepest grief, losses, and sorrows – often they seemed too much for a person to bear. In the past few months it felt as if my journey had turned into one of the darkest valleys I could imagine. To see our children or our grandchildren go through suffering is one of the most difficult experiences of life. Many of you know this pain from firsthand experience. We know that faithful followers of Jesus are not sheltered from life’s sorrows – yet when they happen to us it can leave us shrouded in darkness.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” This is a rich portrait of the beauty and power of the incarnation. At Christmas we celebrate the historical fact that Jesus Christ was born. God in human flesh. The central miracle of God’s relationship with humankind — He became one of us. The hopes and fears of the human journey, past, present, and future all intersect in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. What happened then and there changes everything we experience here and now if we welcome the Savior into our hearts, minds, and souls.
There are still many dark streets for the human race. The persecution of Christians around the world continues to shock us. Violent thugs kidnap their fellow men and women and treat them with cruelty and derision. The darkness at times seems so much more powerful than the quiet good news of Jesus’ birth. In response to great evil we look to the day when Jesus will come in power and glory to set all things right and we do our part to lighten the darkness of the world through deeds of love and mercy.
A few days after our church’s Harvest Festival a young mom from the congregation brought me a couple picture that her daughter had colored for me. It was a picture of the baby Jesus with the words “love” and “peace” written on either side of the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling cloths. I think this little girl knows that my family has been struggling lately and she wanted to give me a gift to cheer me up. As I look at the picture of the little baby and those words: love and peace I see the light shining into the dark streets of our human journey. Though we are not spared suffering in this life, by God’s grace, in Jesus, we are given the gifts of love and peace to sustain us.
What a blessing that one of the youngest and littlest members of our church family wished to bless me with the gifts of love and peace – along with the reminder of the gift of the baby Jesus who comes to us anew as we open our hearts to him each year, each month, each day of our lives. May the light of Christ shine into your life this Christmas season as you open your heart to receive him anew.