Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

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Hopes and Fears

December 19th, 2015 · No Comments · Faith and the City

Christmas is for poets.

The best verse for Yuletide tweaks our nostalgia. It prods our skepticism, too. It pushes past both the syrupy sweet and the sadly cynical places in our hearts. The best poetry ushers us into the mystery of God’s incarnation.

How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.
       — W.H. Auden, “For the Time Being”

Christmas is for poets.

One of my favorite scraps of Christmas poetry comes from the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” An American preacher, Phillips Brooks, wrote this hymn after he traveled to Bethlehem on horseback on Christmas Eve in 1865.

I love to picture it. In the time before electricity reached Palestine, on a dark December night a clergyman rides toward a village guided only by starlight.

kTMbeAM9cO 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 imagine the preacher slowly wending his way through the rocky terrain. He ponders a young Jewish woman, astride a donkey, feeling the first pains of labor, hoping to make it to the town in time. He imagines her husband leading the donkey, worrying over the few coins in his pocket, wondering where to take his beloved to have this baby. Surely, the preacher is thinking of the shepherds, reclining in the dark fields, gazing up at the stars.

Brooks feels the poignancy and the power of the moment. The universe inhales and pauses — holding its breath. Something simple, something salutary, something momentous is about to happen in quiet, humble, dark Bethlehem.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

I need that verse to get to Christmas. I need that verse right now. I need to know that my hopes and my fears are going to be met and embraced by God.

Perhaps you are feeling that, too?

See you in worship, my friends.

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