Hopes and Fears

I received a Christmas card with the phrase, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” It recalled the song I heard so often as a youth… “O little town of Bethlehem,” With all that’s going on presently in our world and in our church, this single line struck me like never before. Doing some research, I found that this song was written back in 1868 by Phillips Brooks, a rector in Philadelphia, after returning from a trip to the Holy Land, and viewing Bethlehem at night from the hills of Palestine. Then, he asked his church organist, Lewis Redner, to write the music for his lyrics and had his choir sing it for Christmas. It’s been a Christmas classic ever since…as I am sure most of my generation fondly recalls.

“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.”

Hopes and fears are surely two things common to all of humanity. As the years go by each of us experience alternating degrees of one or the other…and often times…both. When our faith is strongest, we’re likely to hold more hope. When our faith is weakened, fear often creeps in. Certainly, we desire a hope that isn’t just an “I hope so,” but an “I know so.” However, a crisis, or some life altering blow, can suddenly challenge our reliance on God and dilute our trust. And then, that fear that slips in …can be exhausting and paralyzing. And consider also, this is what confronts those of us with faith!

When we, a family member, or a close friend… receive some heartbreaking health prognosis, it tends to ignite a hope for a miraculous healing, as well as a prayerful initiative to overcome a fear of “What’s next.” We’re hopeful for a better situation at work, while anxious that it might not improve. We’re praying for a more stable world, but current events can make us question… “Where is God?” Family members hurting each other, financial struggles, a sudden death of an adored person, a lost home, an addiction, our own sin…in fact…any number of traumatic events can throw us into turmoil and fear. Our negative feelings and fears can be the devil’s playground, leaving us vulnerable to despair.

God reminds us that He is always with us, and that He can indeed give us peace, a peace that the world can’t provide. “Do not be afraid!” is the most commonly repeated phrase in the entire Bible. And, St. Paul exhorts us: “Now may the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope.” Yet our humanity means our moods and emotions can change, and our circumstances can change our triumph of hope over fear. Have you ever experienced and accompanied someone you love, through deep and prolonged personal pain and suffering, witnessing their resistance and their refusal to give-in to the temptation to despair? Trusting in God’s unchanging nature and His unchanging promises… can require heroic virtue (as exemplified by the Saints), but one of His promises…is to walk with us through our trials when we seek Him in prayer. “Cast all of your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). We need to turn to Him in surrender, and pray for the grace to maintain…and increase… our Trust in Him … and not the promises of the material world.

We want to hope, and we want to know, that there’s something better coming if we Trust in Him. We want to know our sufferings have a purpose, that God’s plan is to save every one of us… even in times when, from our standpoint, things appear to be meaningless, random, and chaotic. We need to maintain hope…and know…that we will be with our loved ones again. And, know that our offering-up of our pain and suffering… will indeed be rewarded. We want to know it will all make sense. God will get us through our fears, and He will surround us with His peace, if we will only submit our “what-if’s”, our “why-not’s”, and our “it needs to work out my way’s” to Him in heart-felt trust. In John 6:68 we are told that Peter said, “Where else should we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.” The Birth of Our Savior, that we continue to celebrate right up through the Epiphany, did indeed serve to gather together, all of Humanity‘s “Hopes and Fears”, of humanity, and includes them in His plan for our salvation. So, as we continue the remaining days of this Christmas Season…let us prayerfully ask Him (and allow Him) to overcome Our Fears with His Hope. Again, not the hope of, “I hope so,” but the hope of “I know so.” Jesus, I trust in You!

Merry Christmas and a most blessed New Year!