A Word from Our Pastor 2012 December Hopes and Fears

December Message from Reverend Dr. Naomi Southard

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. . .”

Do these words sound familiar? They come from the old favorite Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It’s a poetic way of saying that in the birth of Jesus, all our hopes and fears are present. More than just “present,” but “met.” “Met” means something like “come together,” or even more, are “in conversation” with each other.

When Jesus was born, Bethlehem was a place filled with many fears – it was under foreign occupation, by a brutal and some would say, tyrannical government. Rome made sure that even simple peasants far away from the center of the Empire knew that their only safety lay in complete loyalty to the power that oppressed them. Disloyalty could easily end in crucifixion. The oppression was economic (high taxes), military (armed soldiers everywhere) and political (Jewish leaders were chosen by Rome). Things are still pretty similar in Bethlehem now – where a foreign government, Israel, controls the economy, natural resources (especially water) and the Palestinians’ ability to travel in their own land. There are Israeli soldiers and hostile settlers everywhere. Bethlehem is very much a place of hopes and fears . . .

More than two thousand years later, here in the US, our hopes and fears (of all the years. . .) still need to “meet” – still need to talk to each other. If they are going to have a conversation, we need to know what they are. . .

What are your hopes? Your fears? Some of our hopes seem to good to ever be true: “I hope for world peace, and an end to hunger . .” “I hope that Wadi Fouquin will be safe and productive. . .” “I hope that everyone could have good health care. . . ” Some of our hopes are just reverse fears: “I hope the economy doesn’t get worse. . . ” “I hope my kids get into a good college. . .” “I hope my parents don’t get sick(er). . .”

There’s a lot to be fearful about in this world, whether we are in Palestine or Berkeley – or just about anywhere else. Wherever there is fear, there is a deep longing for hope. Fear and hope need to meet, because hope is the salve, the healing balm that can be applied to fear.

The song reminds us that in Jesus’ coming to us, our hopes and fears meet. As the church, we are the place where Jesus’ healing is shared. We aren’t a place where all our hopes are fulfilled, or all our fears are made to disappear. The church can be (should be) a place where our hopes and fears will be heard: received, respected and held gently in God’s presence. That’s what we do at BMU: hold our hopes and fears gently in God’s presence.

In the weeks ahead, we will meet each other’s hopes and fears. . . We will structure worship in a special way to help us experience God during this season, using the Psalms as our guide. On Dec. 2, 9, and 16 we will worship together briefly in the sanctuary, where the choir will perform. We will then move into four smaller groups for prayer, song, discussion and creative expression.

We invite you to tell us, specifically, your hopes and fears – post on our website, facebook page or email to BMUC@gmail.com. We will receive, respect and hold your contributions gently, post them in our sanctuary and together, place them before God. In the birth of Jesus, we will all experience the holiness of the conversation, and the healing that results. We hope to see you at church!

–Rev. Naomi