27 November 2022

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

Andrew Wileman

A photo of The Salvation Army Song Book open at the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. The line 'The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight' is highlighted in green.

Andrew Wileman shares a reflection on the carol 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'.

‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ paints the picture of a sleepy, unassuming town that serves as the setting for the unprecedented act of God entering the world as a human being. It’s probably safe to assume that many people living in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth had no clue that a young woman was having a baby that night or, if they had known, would not have given much more than a second thought to the fact.

And yet, Bethlehem is very much the kind of setting where the gospel takes place. Not with resounding ovation, but in quiet, simple, even normal actions.

Phillip Brooks was the minister of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia and had visited Bethlehem in December of 1865. Back then it truly was a small village, far removed from the bustling city it would become. Something about the beauty and simplicity of that visit stayed with him when he returned to America.

Several years later, when he wanted a new song of Christmas for the children to sing at his church, he reached back in his memory for inspiration from his Holy Land visit. Within the beauty of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ is one of God’s promises from the prophet Micah:

‘Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times’ (Micah 5:2 Good News Bible).

This carol does a fantastic job of showing the paradox of God’s salvation. The eternal God would bring salvation to the whole world through a small child, in a small town, mostly unnoticed by the world. The contrast between Bethlehem’s smallness and the Messiah’s greatness highlights the unexpected and upside-down nature of God’s saving work.

The simplicity and humility of Christ’s birth is that example of how God frequently works in our world through the simple, mundane and normal, and yet what makes those things extraordinary is the presence of God with us.

Many of us count ourselves insignificant because we think we aren’t important enough, accomplished enough, clever enough or articulate enough to make a difference.

But God has chosen to use that which seems foolish to the world for his purposes. You don’t have to be a ‘somebody’ in the world’s eyes in order to contribute to God’s salvation and transformation of the world. You simply need to be available to him.

Written by

Andrew Wileman

Andrew Wileman

Assistant Director of Older People's Services

A photo of the O Come, O Come, Emmanuel book cover, featuring two lit white candles and a graphic of musical notes

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This reflection is taken from O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, a Christmas carol devotional for Advent.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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