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'Hopes and fears of all the years ...' are still met the same way in 2020

In Other Words
Lead Summary
Jason Berghorst, reporter

What’s your favorite Christmas song?
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is my favorite to sing with others. 
“O Holy Night” is my favorite to listen to soloists, duets and choirs sing. 
“Silent Night” might be the most beautiful, especially a capella in candlelight.
I also love “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” because it means the start of my favorite hour of the year.
To say that the Christmas Eve service at church means a lot to me is an understatement. 
And that leads me to my last two favorite Christmas carols. 
While the melodies are nice, it’s the words within “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve” that mean the most to me.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight” are the final words of the first verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Those words, written almost two hundred years ago, are still true for me every Dec. 24.
For almost all of my 42 Christmas Eves, I have been in the same room at the same time.
No matter what good or bad things have happened in my life, or in my family, or in the world around me that year, Christmas Eve is the same. 
The words, the songs, the people, the message and its meaning never change. 
Christmas Eve at church is my yearly opportunity to reflect on the past, hope for the future, and know and feel that my faith is with me and my family through it all. 
Indeed, I meet the hopes and fears of all my years during that hour on Christmas Eve. 
And that leads me to my overall favorite Christmas carol: “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve.” 
As a child, it was the first verse of “I Am So Glad” that interested me the most, because the congregation (even to this day) sings it in Norwegian. 
I was always amazed at how many people could speak a language I only heard once a year.
While it’s true in the 1980s there were more native Norwegian speakers at Grace Lutheran, by the time I was a teenager, I realized that the vast majority of us were just winging that first verse. 
About the same time, I began to focus much more on the last verse. 
“And so I love each Christmas Eve, and I love Jesus too; and that He loves me every day, I know so well is true.” 
There it is. That sums it all up for me.
For about the last 15 years, I’ve been in the choir on Christmas Eve. We sit behind the altar facing the congregation.
Each year during that verse, I look at the stained glass window in the back above the full congregation that includes my family and just reflect on what it all means to me.
As I’ve gotten older, I often don’t get through the verse with a clear voice or dry eyes. 
This year, of course, was different. 
Because of the pandemic, there would be far fewer people and only pre-recorded music.
But there was still a service. I was still in the same room at that same time and I still heard the same words and message.
The hopes and fears of the most unusual year of my life were still met in Him that night. 
Instead of the congregation singing my favorite carol, it was recorded in Norway for our service by great-nieces of two of our congregation’s last living members born in Norway.
A very 2020 way to keep that tradition alive.
And when the Norwegian musicians got to the last verse, they sang it in English.
“And so I love each Christmas Eve, and I love Jesus too; and that He loves me every day, I know so well is true.” 
As I sat in my unusual spot next to my 7-year-old nephew, I very quietly sang along under my mask and turned briefly to look back at the same window I do every year.
Even though so much has changed in the last year, so much has stayed the same.
As we end 2020, we all have so much to reflect on, to be thankful for, and even more to be hopeful for.

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