Pastor Chris Tweitmann
It is a long-standing tradition of this holiday season to sing. Even those of us who aren’t normally inclined to carry a tune will find ourselves humming the familiar chorus of a Christmas carol as we listen to the car radio or shop in a local store. We continue to sing these songs of the season, with many of the words etched into our memories, even though they make it on the airwaves only once a year. We can be so used to these treasured melodies and just instinctively repeat their lyrics that we may never pay attention to the words.
This Advent season at Grace, we are marking the time leading up to December 25th by intentionally highlighting a handful of some of the best Christmas carols. Together we are learning about their origins as well as the scriptural basis behind their creation. Our goal is to ponder more deeply their meaning as well as the arrival of the One on whom they are focused.
On Sunday, we will consider the classic hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Originally written for children, this song has captured the imagination of all ages. As its title indicates, this carol revolves around the specific place where Jesus Christ was born: Bethlehem.
Of course, we know the story: this was the place of destination for Mary and Joseph due to a census decreed by the Roman Empire. As we’ll learn on Sunday, long before this government edict, Bethlehem was the designated birthplace of the Messiah by way of prophecy. It was the Lord’s spokesperson, the prophet Micah, who foretold of the great honor that would come to this otherwise, often overlooked city.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is typically a mainstay of nativity plays. Sounding very much like a lullaby, it is a song known more for its dreamy quality rather than its theology. And yet, much like the seemingly insignificant town which gives the tune its name, there is more to this hymn than first meets the eye. After all, this song contains this bold and compelling claim related to Christ: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
You’re invited to join us this weekend as we continue to work our way through these days of Advent by setting our sights on Bethlehem. Together we’ll engage a simple song that communicates much more than a sentimental story about a little town asleep even as God came down in their midst. This is a declaration of faith and an encouragement towards charity rooted in a vision of hope and justice for all of God’s people.
Beloved, carols and hymns are not only poetic descriptions of what once was. They often are also prayers of faith, asking God to do things here and now – often to change US. For this reason, we ought not to gloss over their words as we sing them. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” asks our Lord to “cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” May this, the coming anew of Christ into our hearts, be our hope and expectation, as we anticipate the arrival of Christmas this year.