The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol
O Little Town of Bethlehem
(Be sure to read the introduction to this series.)
A teen graduating from high school…
A young woman getting married…
A long awaited purchase of a dream car, dream home, dream vacation…
We all have experienced major events in our lives that are the culmination of long years of anticipation. We've rolled that moment over and over in our minds as we slowly progress toward the goal.
For children, each day of December seems as long as the whole year as they watch Christmas decorations go up and presents go under the tree. How many of us, in our childhood, thought there was no way that we could survive the long, long Christmas Eve? "Visions of sugarplums"? No way! We were desperately guessing how the toy we desperately hoped for all year could possibly be in one of those wrapped-and-ribboned packages.
Did you know the first Christmas was as fervently anticipated as any Christmas since?
Our first Christmas Carol tells us the story of anticipation that lay over Israel at that time. Give a listen to "O Little Town of Bethlehem" sung by Acapella.
Did you catch the key phrase?
"The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight"
It's true. For many, many long years, Israel had hoped for a King, a Conqueror, a Liberator who would throw off the shackles of foreign oppression and restore the vigor and dignity of the nation. This hope was personalized by two people who you may never have heard of, but who are essential to the complete Christmas story. Let me take you to Luke 2 and introduce you to Simeon and Anna.
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (v.25)
And there was a prophetess, Anna.… She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers…. looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (v.36…)
Please read all of Luke 2 so you get the full picture.
The point is, good, righteous, and devout people were eagerly expecting the coming of the Messiah who would bring "consolation" and "redemption" to Israel. And they had been expecting Him for years! For centuries, the hopes of an entire nation lay heavily on the unknown, unborn Messiah's shoulders. For centuries, the Israelites feared that their Messiah would never come, or come too late.
Indeed, "the hopes and fears of all the years", the eager anticipation of a whole nation, was answered in that quite night in the stable.
This installment of The Gospel According to (Christmas) Carol reminds us that our timing is often not the same as God's timing. But He is a good and wise God and we are wise to rest peacefully in the confidence that "at just the right time" God will deliver on His promises.
Bonus: Here is a nice post about the history of several most-beloved carols.