Every ballgame I attend I am filled with emotion! I hope my sons will do their best, and I hope my team wins. I hope they don’t get injured, and I hope they don’t make mistakes. But hope is more than wishful thinking in a sports performance.
This past summer, our family spent a little time discovering the history of America. We toured the battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam, where two of the bloodiest Civil War battles took place. It’s estimated that 3.5 million men fought in the Civil War with over 625,000 fatalities. We spent time touring Washington D.C., viewing statues and memorials, which honor people and special moments in history. We saw where President Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14th 1865. I was reminded by memorials, battlegrounds, and stories that there were some dark times in America’s history pages.
There is one story during a dark time in our history, which you won’t find on a battlefield or in a museum. This story is about Phillips Brooks who was pastoring a church in Philadelphia during the civil war, along with his friend, Lewis Redner, a real estate agent who became the organist at the church. Thanks to the talented preaching of Pastor Brooks and the music of Lewis Redner, the weekly services great from 30 over 1,000, and that was just the children!
The church was growing in numbers, but our national spirit was dying, as we faced a civil war that daily took lives. Everyone knew someone who died in battle, and women wore black to church each week as they lost husbands and sons in battle. As darkness covered our nation and the church, Pastor Brooks tried to be inspirational but he couldn’t give his church what they needed – hope.
The war ended, but the pain deepened with the assassination of President Lincoln. Pastor Brooks was asked to preside over the funeral ceremony. This moment left him empty, so he later took a sabbatical to the Holy Lands. Pastor Brooks spent Christmas walking through the fields of the shepherds, viewing the stars, visiting the birth place of Jesus Christ, and reestablishing his faith.
During his sabbatical, Pastor Brooks was renewed and inspired by God. He shared and attempted to inspire his church when he returned, but his efforts failed. Attempting to relive that special moment in the Holy Lands with words, he wrote his experience into a poem. When he finished the poem, he took it to his friend Lewis Redner to compose music to accompany the poem. Lewis tried, but failed. On December 24, he went to bed unsuccessful in putting the poem to song. That night in bed, God filled his heart with a tune. Here are the words…I’m sure you will know the tune.
“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 the next 6 years, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” became a Philadelphia favorite. In search of hope and spiritual renewal, this pastor found simple words that today are still sung by millions.
We all experience dark times in our lives – unemployment, injury, sickness, and death just to name a few. Broken relationships, hurtful words, and disappointment are nothing new. Feeling hopeless? Christmas is a beautiful time to remember that we can find hope in dark times. Hope does not come from Santa Claus or a victory in sports, but from a Savior, born during dark times.
Psalm 39:7 says, “And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” Hope is joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation! We were once hopeless, but now we can be made new in Jesus Christ. We have hope!
For more reading, check out Romans 5:2; Romans 12:11-12, and I Peter 3:15.