What is your favourite Christmas Carol, I wonder. I prefer the quieter ones myself, such as O Come O Come Emmanuel, and Silent Night. It wasn't until a few days ago, listening to Classic FM as I drove to work, that I really heard the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem. There are two lyrics in particular that I'd like to share with you.
Firstly, "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” stands out after the year that we have had. So much hope and fear in just the space of 12 months. Hope of better days to come, hope to see friends and family again, hope to hug, hope for a vaccine, hope for numbers of cases to drop, hope in the government. Fear of job losses, fear of losing loved ones, fear of loneliness and isolation, fear of the affects in relationships and mental health, financial fears, existential fears, even. Looking with a wider perspective than just this year, looking generally at our lives, yours and mine, and universally too. We hope for peace; peace of mind, peaceful lives, world peace. When anxiety takes hold, we fear the little things, as well as huge ‘what ifs’. When real fear kicks in, it needs to be met with real peace. This hope is met in Jesus, as the “prince of Peace”.
We hope to have enough; enough money, enough food, enough work, enough friends. We hope to be enough. We fear that won’t. This hope of enough was met in Jesus. In Matthew He speaks about worry, saying to look at the birds of the air. They don’t worry about food, they don’t sow or reap, or store away in barns. Jesus asks, “are you not more valuable to God, than the birds?” Jesus says “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-34) This hope to have enough, this fear that we won’t, is met in Jesus.
We have a hope to be loved. We have a fear that we are not. This is met in Jesus when He made the biggest sacrifice of all, laying down his life to save us. That cross He carried was mine too, that cross He carried was yours. The crown of thorns He wore for us. There’s a quote that says, “I asked Jesus, how much do you love me? And he stretched out his arms, and died. Our hope to be loved is met in Jesus.
But on this night in Bethlehem ‘one of the small clans of Judah’, as Micah had prophesied hundreds of years before, all our hopes and fears are met. Hopes are met with fulfilment, and fears are crushed.
The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.
'The second lyric that stands out to me is “come to us, abide with us, O Lord Emmanuel”. Emmanuel means God with us, but this lyric is more than saying the same thing three times. It’s not “be with us, be with us, O Lord of the God who is with us”. 'Come', 'abide', and 'with' are three different things.
Come is a movement, it’s to go from one place to another. If I say to you, “come here”, you don’t just turn your head to listen, you intentionally and purposefully move to me. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, ‘ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you”. We ask God to come, and He will come. But I think there’s also something we need to do too, sometimes we need to make intentional and purposeful movement. There’s an analogy I love, and it goes like this…
If you’re at a theme park and you’re looking at a map, you find the ride that you want to go on. But it’s no use knowing where the ride is, if you don’t know where you are in relation to it. You need to find the red pin that says “you are here”. Where are you in relation to God? If God is near, where are you? God will come to you. But you can also come to Him.
Abide with us, is different too. Abide is a much stronger word, again I think it is intentional and purposeful, but instead it’s not a movement like ‘to come’ is. It means to be stable and fixed, to be so close in relationship that it’s like you are one. Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me”
And finally, Emmanuel, God with us. I think Emmanuel sort of encapsulates it all. Come, intentionally and purposefully come closer. Abide; stay close, become in relationship. With, let’s go onwards together.