O little town of Bethlehem

Some of the best-known hymns are Christmas carols. Familiar words express the wonder of the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, and all that his coming brings to people still today. In 1868 Phillips Brooks, the rector of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, wrote “O little town of Bethlehem” after visiting the Holy Land and seeing Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine at night. He reflected that when Jesus was born in that little town many people were unaware of it. Yet Jesus had come to fulfil their greatest hopes and still their greatest fears. Our deepest needs are the same as theirs, and Jesus meets those needs.

“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. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth; for Christ is born of Mary; and, gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.”

In Jesus, God drew near to our needy world. He is the greatest gift that has ever been given. Just as he was born quietly in Bethlehem so, over the years, he has gently drawn near to countless people of all nations who have received him as Saviour and Lord. “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.”

Christmas is a busy time with so much to do. Some will rejoice with their families, others may be on their own and feel sad that those they loved are no longer with them. Whatever our situation we, like Phillips Brooks, can take time to reflect on the birth of Jesus so long ago in Bethlehem. The child who was born is an eternal person whom we can still encounter today when we pray that he will draw near to us and be with us. “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in; be born to us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”

The Prince of Peace

The coming of Jesus Christ has made a real difference to this world. In the days leading up to Christmas this year there was a real sense of joy as Christmas carols and music were played in many places. Jesus has brought joy and peace to countless people. He lifts us above the struggles of our daily lives and the troubles of the world. Christmas has now passed but the blessings that Jesus brings to our lives continue.

One of the greatest blessings that Jesus gives is peace. The angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then a great number of angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Jesus came to bring peace and reconciliation between God and us. By nature we all rebel against God and assert our right to go our own way. This is the root cause of all our personal problems and the many conflicts in the world. We need to find forgiveness, peace with God, and new life in Jesus. One carol rejoices in this, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’”

When people come to faith in Christ their lives wonderfully change. On my recent visit to the Hupla people in Papua I saw many men with spears and other weapons. In the past they were always fighting with each other and with neighbouring tribes, but they don’t do that anymore because they have come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.

The Christmas Truce in some parts of the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914 is an example of the remarkable influence of Jesus Christ on ordinary people, even those caught up in a terrible war between “Christian” nations. The British and German soldiers agreed to maintain a truce on Christmas Day and some met each other in No Man’s Land between the respective trenches. They exchanged gifts and souvenirs and sang Christmas carols in English and German. The following day the battle resumed! Let us pray that in the coming year we, and the peoples of the world, will know the true and abiding peace which only Jesus gives.