O Little Town of Bethlehem
Remember the Sesame Street Song, One of these things are not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong? There are some things that go together, things that seem to be made for one another, like salt and pepper, fall and football, and nuts and bolts.
And there are some things that just don’t belong together. Things that are so opposite from one another we hope their paths never cross, like red stripes and orange polka dots, fuzzy dice and a Rolls Royce, and Poinsettias and freshly dug graves. Talking about death when everyone else is celebrating the most wonderful time of the year. Some things like caskets and Christmas just don’t belong together.
This past Friday we as a nation witnessed the worst side of humanity as the internet, our televisions or radios told us the horrible news of what happened in Newton, Connecticut. Today there are homes in that little towns that have no desire to celebrate as they are dealing with the loss of their sons and daughters. Little boys and girls who will never grow up, never fall in love, and never open the presents that are waiting for them under the tree.
Anytime a tragedy unfolds, the ripples are far reaching. It is not just that small community that is dealing with a terrible loss, but every community in America is dealing with a terrible loss. We have lost 28 souls that were not only created in the image of God, but who were loved deeply by our heavenly Father. We lost the promise they held and the wonder they were created for.
We are left searching for answers. The struggle I have is knowing that we will never understand what caused Adam Lanza to do what he did. We will never be able to make sense of this tragedy, in very much the same way that we were not able to make sense of what happened at Columbine, The World Trade Center, Virginia Tech, or any other place where the worst side of humanity dares to show its face.
On Friday we did not only loose 28 souls, we also lost a little of the peace that we live with every day. I’m not sure what happened in your home, but as we sat around the dinner table we talked about the fear that we have, fear that something could happen here in our church or schools. We discussed the sadness that we felt, and the loss. We tend to be oblivious and think that everything will be ok. And then something horrific happens and our peace turns to fear.
I thought it was fitting for us to look at the hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem, this morning. I believe that it is fitting for us to consider the first verse. The words of this song build to a crescendo and in the last stanza we find these words of peace, The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
I would not dare stand before you this morning and try to give you any glib answers. I would not dare say that this was God’s will, or that it was in His plan for these 20 young children to be taken from this life in such a horrific event. I truly believe that God weeps in heaven when His children are in pain, struggle, or experience loss. But I also believe that our Father offers hope when everything around us seems hopeless, and peace when our world in encompassed in fear.
Because of the birth of our Savior we cannot only have peace when tragedy hits, but we have hope through the one that meets all of our fears. And while we may not ever understand why these terrible things happen in our broken world, we can find hope in our Lord.
Our text this morning comes from the 27th Psalm, look with me as I read this beautiful psalm and then we will pray. (Read Text)
In this Psalm, David shows us how to stand strong in the face of fear and live in hope. Hope is a powerful thing in a world filled with tragedy and despair. We need to understand what Biblical hope is all about. There is a huge difference between human hope and Biblical hope. Human hope is when we plan a cookout and we say, I hope it doesn’t rain. It’s being unsure about the future. Biblical Hope on the other hand is assurance and confidence that God can and will do these things.
Throughout the Bible we are told, Don’t be afraid, Do not worry, Be confident, Trust in the Lord, Fear not. In that little town of Bethlehem our hopes and fears meet, and for the children of God we can have the victory. That’s why I am so drawn to our text this morning. I love the hope that David has as he looks to the Lord.
When David focuses on God he understands that there is no reason to fear. When we consider and think about who God is and what He can do in our lives we can also live in great hope. This is why David asked the question: Whom should I fear? In the very first verse of this Psalm David reminds us of three things concerning God that give us hope.
First he says, "The Lord is my light..."
Time and time again in the Bible we see the comparison between dark and light. It is the simplest illustration of our standing with God, because it is so universal. We all understand what it is like to be in the dark, and the fear and loneliness that resides there.
One of Trafton’s chores around the house is to feed the dog. When we lived in Scufflegrit our back yard stretched to 148 acres of woods and when the sun went down the only light under the trees were the lightening bugs. Every night the same story played out; after supper Trista would tell Trafton to go and feed the dog. He would go to his room put on his shoes, turn on all the lights in the back yard, grab the food bucket and a flashlight, and then come and ask me to watch him out the back window. Every night I would reassure him that there were no monsters in the back yard, but he had this fear that something back there was going to get him.
Now that he is older he would tell you that his fear was unreasonable. There were no monsters waiting in the dark woods to grab him and take him away. But there is still something about being in the darkness and then finding the light that brings a calming and peaceful feeling.
In our text David is very realistic about his circumstances. He doesn’t say, if evil men or foes attack or if troubles come; he says when this happens God is my light. In very much the same way we need to understand that there will be times in our lives when we are overcome by fear, and in those times we have a God who can overcome that which overcomes us.
I think a failure we have is when everything is going well, we forget to look for the light. The light is only attractive when we are surrounded by darkness. It’s only in the darkness of life that we are open to the deep love, mercy, and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In that town in Bethlehem our hopes and fear meet, and because of the Light of the world our hopes are greater than our fears.
Next, David notes that the Lord is his Salvation, his Rescuer, or his Deliverer.
Our hope is based on God and David knew that if he was going to have the hope of deliverance he needed to look to the only one with the power to provide salvation. Only Jehovah can offer us the deliverance that we long for. And we can find assurance in His ability to save us, because of the way that God has saved His children in the past.
A quick look through the pages of your Bible reveals God ability to deliver His people. God delivered the Children of Israel from the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters. God rescued David from the giant Goliath on the battle field. God rescued Jonah from the sea and then from the belly of the whale. God rescued Daniel when he was thrown in a lions den. And Jesus rescued you by giving His life as a willing sacrifice on the cross. We need to spend some time remembering the faithfulness of God in our lives on a daily basis.
At the heart of salvation is a demonstration of God's love. God delivers us from our bondage to sin. He sets us free to be the people He's called us to be. He gives us hope for a wonderful future. David finds assurance because God, the Great I Am, is his Rescuer and Deliverer. And that assurance makes a change in his life.
One of the themes in James’ writings was faith without works is dead. True faith produces results and change in the life of the person who has faith. If a person has not changed one iota since professing faith in Christ then his or her faith is really dead. It’s not a genuine faith. True faith produces true change, not perfection, but moving away from the wrong way of life and moving toward the right way of life.
Now apply that same principle to hope. A hope that never dies is going to produce something. It will change how you think, how you talk and how you live! You need hope to face life’s challenges, and we gain our hope through our salvation. A hope that never dies is a reassuring thing. It’s positive. It deals with the future in certain terms and so it produces positive results!
Finally, David says The Lord is the "stronghold of our life..."
A stronghold is a refuge, a place of safety from danger. This is a metaphor we should be able to relate to very well here in the gulf area where every year we wonder if another hurricane will make landfall in the Golden Triangle. All of us with commonsense seek refuge or stronghold during these storms. The greater the intensity of the storm the stronger the refuge we desire. The stronger the refuge the less fearful we will be!
If you were to go through a hurricane in a flood plane you would have every right to be afraid, because you have no faith in your refuge. But if you were go through a hurricane in high ground where the threat of flooding is non existent you can find confidence and peace. David is saying that we should have peace not because there are no serious storms in our life but because we have a secure place, a sure stronghold, for the Lord is our refuge.
We can claim God as our refuge because He is always near and available to us. God never puts us on hold. We may be on hold on the telephone, on hold at the red light, on hold at the bank, on hold in the post office line, or on hold at the supermarket.
But God is always available and anxious to hear us whenever we want to speak to Him. Some of our problems may be superficial, others are deep, and God desires to help us. So talk to Him! Then listen to Him through His Word and learn from Him!
We can claim God as our refuge because His power is greater than anything in all this world. Greater than winds or storms, or earthquakes, or volcanoes, or tragic shootings in a school. There is no greater power. God’s power is sufficient to win the victory over all the enemies that come our way. In another Psalm David said The LORD protects my life. So why should I be afraid? So don’t be afraid to ask for His help.
Finally, We can claim God as our refuge because He has strength when we are weak. Have you felt weak lately? Have you felt like there are too many stresses in your life, and that you’re about ready to explode? God’s help is available, and all you have to do is reach out for it, and grab hold.
In that little town of Bethlehem a Savior was born that is our Light to guide us, Savior to rescue us, and as a Stronghold to protect us. We have the ultimate in security and therefore we can have peace and hope in our lives. The only fear we should have is that we might forget where our hope comes from.
God is our stronghold, we need to refocus on Him, and stop looking for hope in our bank account.
Our hope does not come from where we live or what we drive.
Our hope does not come from the schools we went to.
Our hope does not come from the Political Process.
Our hope does not come from a bottle or some pills.
Our hope does not come from any man or woman.
Our hope does not come from who or what we know.
Our hope comes from the Lord.
My prayer for you this morning is found in the last stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem: "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 Heavenly angles, the great, glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel."
Questions For You To Consider
What is it about the dark that causes us to fear?
This morning Jeremy said there was a difference between human hope and biblical hope. Do you remember what he said the difference was? (Human hope is when we plan a cookout and we say, I hope it doesn’t rain. It’s being unsure about the future. Biblical Hope on the other hand is assurance and confidence that God will do these things.)
Read Psalm 27 again as a group
David mentions three qualities of God that give him hope in verse 1. What are those qualities?
How does God being light give him hope?
Can you think of a time when you needed light in your life?
If God is a Spirit, (We can’t touch Him) how can we find hope in His presence?
How can you be hope for someone who is struggling in their fear?
In Verse 8 David says that his heart causes him to seek God’s face. What does it mean to seek God’s face?
What does your heart cause to to seek?
What specifically about Christ’s Birth, Life, Death, and Resurrection gives you a reason to find light, salvation, and a strong hold?