And not just ordinary hope. In daily speech, that word stands for little more than wistful wishing. “I hope it’s not going to rain,” someone says, with a worried glance toward the dark sky.
But there’s much more to real hope than that. Even the dictionary says “HOPE IS THE FIRM EXPECTATION THAT WHAT IS DESIRED WILL SURELY OCCUR.”
That’s a tough, more muscular stance than mere wishing.
Hope speaks when we say, “It’s not going to rain!” even as thunder roars and lightning splits the sky.
The Christmas story means to promise just that sort of tough, muscular hope. But it does so with a powerfully disarming image: Infinite power enters human life as a newborn infant. The one who justifies a sturdy hope begins the rescue by taking on our helplessness.
A powerful concept, that, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” powerfully embodies it. The carol depicts humans shrouded in darkness, asleep under the silent march of distant, indifferent stars. But then it projects light, right into the darkness. It declares that our fears, and those of all the years, are defied, right in our dark streets. Our fears are met, matched, overcome by dazzling hope--by our firm belief that what is desired will surely occur.
That’s a magnificent promise. That’s enough to make oxen bow their massive heads and sink slowly, ponderously, to their knees.