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Devotion: The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

This devotion was shared by NLC bass Paul Wilson prior to one of the Christmas Festival concerts in Saint Louis on December 20, 2014. 

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

Throughout human existence fear and hope intersect - usually in that order.  One of these intersecting points occurred on Christmas Day in 1914, when the powerless front line soldiers in WWI did something the Great Generals of the time could not: make peace.

And in our own history and the history of our country, we find many of these intersecting points.  Fear; hope. 

On Sunday morning, April 23rd, 1865, the Reverend of Holy Trinity Church in Boston addressed his congregation:

“While I speak to you today, the body of the President who ruled this people is lying honored and loved in our City. It is impossible with that sacred presence in our midst for me to stand and speak of the ordinary topics which occupy the pulpit. I must speak of him today; and I therefore invite you to study with me the character of Abraham Lincoln, the impulses of his life, and the causes of his death. I know how hard it is to do it rightly, how impossible it is to do it worthily. But I shall speak with confidence because I speak to those who love him, and whose ready love will fill out the deficiencies in a picture which my words will weakly try to draw.  There is an essential connection between Mr. Lincoln's character and his violent and bloody death. It is no accident, no arbitrary decree of Providence. He lived as he did, and he died as he did, because he was what he was. The more we see of events the less we come to believe in any fate or destiny. It will be our duty, then, to see what there was in the character of our great President that created the history of his life and at last produced the catastrophe of his cruel death. After the first trembling horror, the first outburst of indignant sorrow has grown calm, these are the questions which we are bound to ask and answer.”

The fear and grief and uncertainty that gripped our nation was immense and excruciating.  Shortly after this sermon, this preacher began a year-long journey seeking peace and healing.  Five months after the assassination, this preacher found himself in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve, and having made such a journey, and having left such an uncertain and fearful nation, he rode into Bethlehem on horseback at night, riding through the fields where the shepherds had tended their flocks so long ago.  It was peaceful.  It was silent.  It was that night, which inspired the Reverend Phillips Brooks to write this:

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.

Fear abides in our world and in us, but so too does the everlasting light – the hope – that Reverend Brooks wrote about so eloquently.  The tragedy is that there does, at times, seem to be more fear than hope in our broken world.  We only need to look at our own recent history to see this.

The grim anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary just passed us; we see continued atrocities in the Middle East; the outbreak of Ebola in Africa continues; and right here in St. Louis, just 10 miles from this sacred space, Michael Brown was shot and killed.  We sing in a community still reeling with fear and uncertainty, many without hope.

So where does that place us, the National Lutheran Choir?  Just as Reverend Brooks saw the intersection of hope & fear in Bethlehem, so too can we become that point of intersection in this space, not only for our audience but for each other.  Often, it takes setting one’s self apart, as Brooks did in Bethlehem, in order to see through the fear to see the hope.  And so today, know that hope abides in us through God’s love, and with joy and thanksgiving do we get to sing that message today.

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.