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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.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
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.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

“I made up a sort of saying for myself, Nat. I will lift my eyes unto the stars. Sometimes, if you look at the stars long enough, it helps. It shrinks your day-by-day troubles down to size.”

–Mother to Nat in Carry on Mr. Bowditch

It’s been several years since I read Carry on Mr. Bowditch to my children. It is the true story of Nathanial Bowditch, indentured servant boy living in post-Revolutionary War, who eventually becomes the founder of modern maritime navigation; author of New American Practical Navigator, first published in 1802, still found on board every commissioned U.S. Navel vessel today.

I thought of Mother’s words while reading through the lines of this quiet Bethlehem carol…

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.

When I look at the stars long enough I recognize their vastness against my own smallness. But rather than feel shrunk with insignificance, I somehow feel enlarged.

Like the town itself: Bethlehem. First mentioned in Genesis under the name Ephrath—Hebrew for “fruitful land”. By the time of Matthew, Ephrath becomes Bethlehem—“house of bread.” Yet to look at Bethlehem in those ancient days—maybe even now—one would not see such a wealthy place. Rather they would find the place humble, quiet, seemingly insignificant against the greater wonders of the world, certainly when considered within the realm of the mighty Roman Empire.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

From the time I was a child, the night sky has fascinated me. Even now, my favorite thing is to sit underneath its blanket and look up, allowing myself to be engulfed by its wonder. I remember one night several months ago, lounging back in an over-sized Adirondack chair with a glass of wine and clear sky for gazing. I was still unsettled from moving, my “day-by-day troubles” running amuck in my mind. But under the stars that night my soul settled, becoming quiet with the darkness around me. The night song of the cicadas, late-summer humidity against my cheeks, spongy grass under bare feet, all did their work. Slowly I began to feel the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” I knew I was seen by the One who made the stars, held together by His presence.

…. O morning stars together,
Proclaim the holy birth.
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

Early in his book, Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster discusses peaceshalom, and the call for wholeness. Shalom is translated from the Hebrew, as peace in English—but it is so much more. Shalom is peace, yes, but it is also safety, prosperity, well being, intactness, wholeness. Foster calls it a “full-bodied concept.” He goes on to quote Bishop John Taylor, who calls the vision of shalom, “the theology of enough.” (Foster, p. 36)

It seems to me that the desire for shalom is first preceded by groans of unrest. The culmination of all our hopes and fears coupled with a fair amount of loneliness. Like the prophet Elijah who looked out among the Israelites and saw he was the only one left. The only one who sought Yahweh. And he went to the mountain and waited for the LORD to pass by:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”  —1 Kings 19:11-12

Shalom

The Lord came to Elijah in the whisper. Peace—shalom–comes in the whisper…

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven

To the troubled soul, the soul willing to go to the mountain, another place of seeming insignificance, God offers the blessing of His heaven. His shalom. He gives it in the whisper…

No ear may hear His coming…

But to those who humble themselves, who will look to the stars…

The dear Christ enters in.

The Prince of Peace. Given to cast out sin, but not so we are then left hollow and vulnerable like the person freed of evil spirits, swept clean and empty. The evil roamed the land and finding no place suitable came back to its first dwelling, and finding it open and vacant, it re-entered, only this time bringing all its evil friends.

2nd week of Advent–Peace

Christ comes to cast out sin and enter in…

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

He comes to dwell. He comes to those who feel insignificant, overwhelmed by the culmination of their hopes and fears yet willing to look up and see the vastness of the stars.  He comes to them—in the silence, on the mountain, in the whisper. By His abiding, He creates in them a fruit-filled land; a house of bread. Then we shall find Shalom, and discover it is enough.

I will lift my eyes unto the stars, and find my dwelling in the Peace of Bethlehem.

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