Years ago, the church I attended had an interim pastor, whose name I don’t remember, who was from Australia. That is unimportant to the story, but I mention it anyway. Free of charge. Anyway…he served through the Christmas season that year, and I recall that his Christmas Eve sermon lingered on that phase from the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem:
“The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.”
What a great line. In the tradition of the pastor from down under, I’d like to run over the implications of that phrase.
Think of those 4000 years from Eden to Bethlehem, from Adam to the Second Adam, from ruin to redemption. Right after the fall, we see Eve overjoyed that she has conceived a child, a seed, and she must have hoped that this was God’s fulfillment of His promise. But her hopes were soon disappointed as this first child became the like the serpent: a murderer.
Noah was a preacher of righteousness in the midst of a world dwelling in the macabre caverns of indescribable wickedness and corruption. So God overthrows the world, and in a sense, starts over with Noah. But soon the hopes of mankind being restored to Eden are dashed to pieces.
Mankind builds a tower to the heavens. God thwarts their purpose. God calls Abram out of the moon-worshippers of Ur; he believes God through all the windings of his sojourns.
Down through the ages, the story runs, and it seems like the coils of the serpent are inevitable. Egypt enslaves the people of God. But God delivers them. But they soon show that the serpent’s poison is in them. They rebel, they wander, they conquer the promised land, then they do what is right in their own eyes, and are like toddlers who so easily forget.
They offer bulls, goats, and sheep without number. They demand a king, rather than God being their king. God grants their request, and the king is possessed by an evil spirit. God gives them good king David, but despite his (and his son’s) reign being quite glorious, they both falter, sin, fail.
The hopes of the believing Israelite were often brought to the brink. At one point, there’s only one child left in the Davidic line. Over and over, their fears seem to grow large, while their hope seems to fail. But every time, God brings about an unexpected deliverance. Foreshadowing His greatest triumph.
Cain wasn’t the savior, nor Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, or Daniel. Through wanderings, exiles, slavery, idolatry, sin, triumphs, conquests, and defeats, God was bringing all the hopes and fears of His people to focus on a single point in history. After Malachi’s prophecy there were 400 years of prophetic silence. Their hope had grown dim, their fears had multiplied.
And then a cry is heard. A child was born. Mankind’s hope for salvation from sin had finally been answered. Mankind’s fear of damnation had finally been silenced. So look towards that little town of Bethlehem, where––two thousand winters ago––a child was born of virgin. In that manger is laid the bread of life from heaven. In that stable is the hope of all the earth. In that boy is the king who would conquer all our fears. Joy and peace had finally come to earth, and His name was called: Immanuel. God with us. In Him all your hopes find their answer, and all your fears are cast out, but His perfect love.