On this, the second Sunday of Advent, we focus our attention to the second verse of Silent Night:
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!
Advent is a season of hope. A season of preparation. A season of expectation.
Sometimes we build our hopes on firm foundations, well-established facts or reasonable assumptions. At other times, the foundation we choose on which to build our hopes might be somewhat shaky, whether we realize it or not. For example, when we consider our Christmas plans, our hope that we’ll spend Christmas with our family is a hope built on a reasonable assumption, based on Christmases past. Obviously, things can happen to derail those plans, but all things considered, that is a hope built on a pretty firm foundation. But suppose we take it a lot further and choose to build our hopes on a foundation of Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia — or any other kind of hope for what we think will make this the “perfect Christmas.”
Hope built on this shaky foundation is one of the reasons that Christmas can be painful — even disappointing — for some people. With the hope for the perfect Christmas and the perfect holiday spirit set as their expectation, they are disappointed — sometimes bitterly when that expected, hoped-for perfection eludes them. As Christians, when our hopes are built on the solid foundation, the real heart of Christmas — the coming of God into the world in Jesus, we experience a hope that is deeper and lasting that informs our lives, every step of the way.
The very definition of hope is: “A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment.” Isn’t that the perfect description of our ideal Advent attitude? Confident expectation. In the hymn, “Silent Night,” the shepherds “quake at the sight.” While it is easy to assume that they were quaking out of fear, I wonder if they weren’t also quaking with hope?
With the pronouncement of the angels, don’t you imagine that they were feeling the “confident expectation” that their present circumstances were about to give way to something new? Can’t you feel the fluttering hope in those words that maybe the turmoil they were living in would give way to peace; that sin and separation from God would give way to relationship with God; that brokenness would give way to wholeness; that dead ends would give way to new beginnings; and that death would give way to life?
This Christmas marks another significant hymn anniversary. One hundred fifty years ago Phillips Brooks penned the words to the beloved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the children at his church, Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. It quickly became a hymn loved by people of all ages.
He was inspired to write the hymn by a journey he took to the Holy Land in 1865. According to the story, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He recalled that night:
“Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it, in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds . . . Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks,’ or leading them home to fold.”
Brooks participated in the Christmas Eve service, conducted in the ancient basilica built by Constantine in the year 326 A.D. over the traditional site of the Nativity, a cave. The service lasted from 10:00 pm to 3:00 am!
Thinking back on that powerful experience, he wrote:
O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see the 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.
What are you hoping for this Advent Season? When you think of the “perfect Christmas” what does that look like to you? In what or whom do you place your hope to help bring that perfect Christmas into being?”
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Luke 2:8-12 (NRSV)
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.