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
For Christ is born of Mary And gathered all above While mortals sleep, the angels keep Their watch of wondering love O morning stars together Proclaim the holy birth And praises sing to God the King And Peace to men on earth
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.
O holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us, we pray Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
There was darkness on the edge of town. Ahaz had spoken. Uncertain times. Successive rulers moved from serving God to serving self, corruption flourished, people suffered. Beyond the boundary, powerful and threatening forces were gathering for siege, yet God spoke into this darkness through Micah of hope and new life to emerge from the least.
There was darkness on the edge of town. Caesar Augustus had decreed. Uncertain times. The Romans were in charge, marshalling, counting, assessing. Amidst the melee, a couple carrying the hopes and fears of first-time parents to be, found inadequate shelter, and….God sang into the darkness through angels’ song and baby’s cry.
American minister Phillip Brooks was visiting Jerusalem and on Christmas Eve rode to Bethlehem, stopping at the field of the shepherds, before midnight mass. Three years on… God moved into the darkness, through Phillip’s heart and O little town of Bethlehem, was penned.
There is still darkness on the edge of our towns. The shadow of homelessness from bed and breakfast accommodation to sofa surfing, and doorway-lined rough sleeping. Some homes watch and wait for benefit to arrive, surviving with food bank meals, fearing encircling debt. In other homes the shadow of illness lurks; a worrying diagnosis, concern about a loved one. Other homes host empty chair and bereaved heart.
And it is into such dark streets and homes that light may still shine. Flickering, yet inextinguishable. Because of that one night 2000 years ago when the hopes and fears of all the years were met, for… God still speaks, sings, and moves in the darkness, through those whose resolution is to serve from soup run and welcoming hostel to food bank and advice centre, coupled with questioning and campaigning. God is still present and active through those whose resolution is to send cards, offer prayer, visit, proffer a listening ear or show loving care.
And thus the hopes and fears of this New Year are met in thee tonight, and each tomorrow, so the everlasting light shines.
O God, in this season of reflection, help me to find the people who are calling me to change my ways and to search my heart. As the Winter deepens, may my heart be stripped bare, so that when comes the Spring, I can rise renewed and flourish into life. Amen.
The Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator National Synod of Scotland, Member Rutherglen URC
St. Andrew's United Reformed Church - The United Reformed Church in Monkseaton and Whitley Bay
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