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.
As I look back on the first Christmas Eve service that I shared in as a very new bishop, ten years ago, I was filled with a whole host of hopes and fears! What was true then, continues to be true a decade later—that we live in and minister in a church and a world that rarely experiences the peace and stillness of which this wonderful Christmas hymn speaks. When we reflect upon the last line of this first verse, one could possibly be forgiven for struggling to find hope and meaning in this promise: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
As I come to this last celebration of Christmas for me as the Bishop of Niagara, however, I want to acknowledge and give thanks for the ways in which so many hopes and dreams have found expression in our work together and that so many of our fears as a church have been laid to rest.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we will open our hearts once again to the story of a man and a woman whose circumstances were not of their own choosing. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Joseph’s first thought, when he was told that Mary was pregnant, was to have her dismissed quietly. Luke tells us that Mary’s reaction was one of fear and disbelief. It sounds familiar!
As they discerned their future, God spoke to them and compelled them to embark upon this long and challenging journey as a family, and they drew strength from each other and from the presence of God who walked with them every step of the way. In this holy season, I also give thanks that this has been our experience in the Diocese of Niagara, in much of what we have set out to accomplish.
As we come, once again, this year to celebrate the birth of our saviour, Jesus the Christ, we seek to fully embrace the truth and the promise that God is with us, that God loves us and is inseparable from our human experience and reality. We understand that this does not mean that, from now on, everything will be perfect. We know that Christmas was the beginning of yet another journey that would take our Lord to the cross.
The story of the birth of the Christ child reminds us, nevertheless, that there is no situation and no life that is beyond the reach and the desire of God to enter into and to change in new and dramatic ways. It has been my great privilege to witness the gift of this transforming love in parishes and in ministries across the diocese of Niagara and in the many places I have traveled to around the world.
For me this beautiful hymn, O little Town of Bethlehem continues to be a meaningful prayer and steadfast promise:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Susan and I wish you every blessing for a holy and joyous Christmas season and a very happy New Year.