—December of 1996
Bethlehem’s Cradle—The World’s Hope!
One Christmas Eve over a century ago, an American Episcopal minister was riding horseback across the Judean hills in Palestine. He stopped his horse at a hillside clearing near the very place where shepherds “watched their flocks by night” so long ago. Reverently he surveyed his surroundings. Above him flickered the same stars that looked down upon the new-born Christ-child centuries earlier; below him, sleeping in the darkness, were the narrow streets of the village of Bethlehem.
Though the air that night was cold, the heart of the notable preacher was warmed as he worshiped in his outdoor sanctuary. The scene so transfixed itself upon his mind that upon returning to America, Rev. Phillips Brooks captured the panoramic wonder of that evening in the words of a poem which he later gave to his church organist, Lewis Redner, who set the verses to music. You will recognize the familiar carol:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Then Brooks penned this astounding, but time-honored evaluation:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!
What an incredible expression of optimism! The hopes and fears of all the years find their fulfillment and resolution in the Baby of Bethlehem! Born in obscurity under inauspicious circumstances, this Child would be hailed as the Saviour of the world; the Conqueror of death, hell, and the grave; the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings! What an antidote for a restless and chaotic world!
As this article goes to press, our nation has just reelected a controversial President to another four-year term. While his reelection may raise the prospect of hope in some circles, it incites great fear, even dread, in many among our ranks. Some are counting on a Republican Congress to check the President’s administrative authority. Others are skeptical about the resolve of Congress to do so. Stir into the political casserole a few on-going foreign affairs, crises such as unrest in Israel and continued involvement in the Persian Gulf. Flavor it with reports of increased drug use among teens and the murderous lyrics of gangster rap that pounds in the heads of America’s youth, and it’s enough to give a person emotional indigestion!
But above the noise, confusion and political turmoil of our world, as hope and fear continue to battle within the hearts of men, it is fitting that we conclude this year by quietly reflecting upon the coming of One who fulfills every hope and calms every fear! While we are rightly concerned about political trends, and while we are responsible to do what we can to influence government, we simultaneously recognize that our hope is not ultimately in a political party. Nor is our deepest trust in the latest peace treaty or some new bureaucratic social program. The confidence of the Christian must remain today where it has always been—in the birth, life, death, resurrection and soon return of the Baby of Bethlehem; for therein, and only therein, is every hope fulfilled and every fear resolved!