• Malcolm

First Sunday of Advent: Hope


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

Twice in my life I have had the privilege of being in the “Little Town of Bethlehem.” There, in Bethlehem, began the story of God’s entry into our world, our accounting of time, and our sense of hope for all that is yet to be.

During my first visit, despite the contemporary clamor of a noisy world, in such a holy place, I felt a need to almost tiptoe across Manger Square. Then, I experienced a real requirement to bow low at the Church of the Nativity, lest the venerable stones at the entrance exact a powerful blow to my head.

The group I was with made several starts and stops along the nave of the Church and then, carefully, descended the darkened steps, down, down, down into a circle of candlelight to the traditional place of Jesus’ birth. Visitors were respectful of the quiet holiness as the tour guides made their presentations. Then, I heard voices bringing life to the words of a carol known to many across God’s world, “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The carolers were singing in English, Norwegian, German, Spanish, and probably many other languages. All were singing in hope.

Later, back again on the pavement of Manger Square, I saw young men and women in Israeli military uniforms rushing to catch buses home at the end of their day. Tank treads clattered in the background. From the minaret, I could hear the wail of the mu’ezzin calling out the adhan, the Islamic summons to worship. And again, amid the cacophony, I remembered the words from the carol, “….the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

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 Little Town of Bethlehem,” 3rd Stanza, from The United Methodist Hymnal, Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893)


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