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Brighten the tangled night

One of the lines in the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” goes: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

We live in fearful times. The coronavirus seems to haunt our every move. Newscasts and talk shows seem to offer us an endless array of worries. As a media executive told me decades ago: “Bad news sells.” Or, to misquote the prospector during the great gold rush: “There’s gold in them thar ills!”

If we’re honest, bad news has always haunted humanity. People didn’t know in ancient times if an invader was on the way. During the Middle Ages, the plague killed half of the inhabitants of Europe. Fear is nothing new to humanity.

Yet, we Christians believe that God has entered into this world of fear. It would not be a painless experience for Jesus. In birth, he would share a manger with the animals. In death he would share the torture of crucifixion with criminals. Why would God choose to enter our world?

I tried to deal with those issues in a poem I wrote soon after my ordination almost 50 years ago. I’d like to share that with you again as my Christmas gift: 

I hear the world groaning in such terrible pain, And I see the tears of the innocent run dry.

I watch humans shackled by sin’s selfish reign, As they turn anguished eyes to the sky.

What can I do for these people I made? How can I touch and dry up their tears?

Perhaps I can brighten life’s darkening shade. By entering history for a period of years.

But the terrible truth – so terrible, so true, Is that many will not care that I came. A manger, a cross, a grave are my due.

Who will notice but the poor and the lame?

Why do I love my people so? Why enter their hate-filled streams? Why do I want my people to know, That God cherishes their hopes and their dreams?

When life’s dawn broke that first perfect day. Human goodness and greatness stood free.

Now new life must be breathed onto a darkened way, And that can only be done by me.

So I know I will go into the world’s tangled night. I will go because I can’t stay away.

If I touch but one person with love’s tender might, Then the night will be conquered by day.

And so it came to pass that there were shepherds in the field.

There was a baby in a manger.

God was with His people.

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