“The Hopes and Fears of All the Years Are Met in Thee Tonight…” …. Phillip Brooks, 1867
This has always been one of my favorite lines from all those familiar Christmas carols which are ours to share in the days to come. It is sung by those of us imagining Bethlehem the night of our Savior’s birth. And it so captures the meaning of this birth.
Although it is so that hope and fear meets in every birth, it seems to me.
The call came on a Monday morning in Lent nearly 16 years ago. My sister, Sarah, was in labor. Upon receiving the news, I immediately called her. The hospital switchboard put me through to her and we chatted pleasantly for a moment, until she said quite politely, under the circumstances, “I have to go now; I’m having a contraction.” I told her I loved her and said good-bye. I ‘went with haste’ across the street to my home and packed an overnight bag and drove just within reach of the speed limit two and a half hours south. And I wept the whole way there.
At first it would seem my reaction made no sense, really. We had no reason to believe all would not be well. It’s just that we had only just buried my dad weeks before and as is often the case, joy and sorrow got all caught up with one another. Hope and fear were meeting in my own heart.
When I arrived I was greeted with the news that the baby was fine. It was a boy. His name was Michael and he was sporting a healthy set of lungs. And within the hour I got to hold that precious life in my arms.
Every birth ties us to all who have gone before and every one hurls us into the future. But none more so than the two births we find ourselves looking forward to in this week’s Gospel where Mary can’t get to her cousin, Elizabeth fast enough. If the news of any birth that matters to us fills us with hope and joy and yes, perhaps some measure of sorrow all at once, just imagine what these two unexpected pending births did to these two women and all who stood alongside them. Just imagine how filled they all must have been with shock, surprise, wonder, joy and fear!
I’m struggling to put ‘words on paper’ with you now with the news rumbling in the background. I came home from the hospital where I was standing with a friend whose elderly dad had just died to hear that at least 26: 20 little children and 6 adults lie senselessly dead in an elementary school in Connecticut. I’m thinking that every single one of those precious lives began with profound hope and wonder. Have we ever been more in need of a Savior than on this day? How can we not look to Bethlehem in the wake of this news and not simply ache for the very presence of God with us once more? Indeed, as those who have seen and felt so much — so much more than anyone should see and feel — not only here but in the wake of senseless acts of violence the world over, perhaps we find ourselves tempted to turn away, to cut ourselves off, to do all we can, all we must do to shield ourselves and those we love from all that might harm. I would guess this reaction is all the more so as we consider those little ones whose families grieve today. Only where would that leave us then?
And so I am comforted by Mary’s song as she sings of a world which will one day be turned upside down. I find myself grasping for this hope that is meant for us. Even as I sort through my own outrage, my own grief, my own fear, I am reminded by the song of a young girl that God’s intent is not this. And I remember that in the end both of these mothers’ sons suffered unspeakably violent deaths. One mother presumably did not live to see it. The other stood by and witnessed every moment. Only Jesus’ death was not without meaning. Indeed, hope and fear met in Bethlehem so long ago. Fear and hope also met on a cross not so many years later so that today you and I might be among those who, for the love of Jesus and one another, comfort the grieving, tend the suffering, and work together with courage and with hope for a day when we won’t need to anymore. At least not for reasons like this…
- What do you think Mary is carrying in her heart as she goes ‘with haste’ to see Elizabeth? Do you think hope and fear are meeting there?
- How do the words of Mary’s Song, speak to the events we have witnessed in these last days? How do these words speak to you?
- How does the Incarnation of Jesus bring good news to those who are suffering? What is the Good News of Christmas in this world, now, today?