Notes from Jan

Bethlehem Bound

November 29, 2022

Oh, to be sure, I still have some leftover turkey to eat and words of gratitude to express. But Thanksgiving, as an official day, is over until next year. So are Black Friday and Cyber Monday, thankfully. And while I love Thanksgiving, I’m so ready for Advent. But not the ‘holiday” rush that rattles nerves, and depletes financial, physical and emotional resources. It’s the season of Advent, I need, a time filled with wonder and anticipation of some One, not some thing.

This year the First Sunday of Advent slipped in between the two biggest shopping days of the year. Kinda like a couple of thousand years ago when God showed up in a barn in Bethlehem. The innkeeper pointed to the NO VACANCY sign and suggested they head to the shed. He’d provide clean hay for a nominal fee, of course. So it came to pass …well, you know the rest of the story.

Last night after lighting Advent candles and reading the Bible passage from Luke 1:26-55, I sang, O Little Town of Bethlehem. Just me. And yet, maybe not. God only knows who sings along, prays with and for us, then cheers us on from heaven’s porch. Still, it’s those familiar words that catch in my throat. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Fear’s rampant. It’s easier to fear, than hope, for most of us. But yesterday as I set up a small nativity scene, I chose hope. The washing machine sloshed, the dryer pinged when time for me to fold another load, and into the stuff of an ordinary Monday God showed up in a simple creche. One teenage mama, seated beside a manger, where the Messiah slept. Joseph stood nearby, while some animals stared at something unusual in their feeding trough. God’s risky choice to enter this fear-filled, messy world as a baby. As Buechner described, ” a baby about the size of a loaf of bread.” Manna for the masses. Hope for our deepest dreads, sensed or sung reminders to “Fear not.”

And then Annie Willis, the other grandmother in the Carlberg-Willis family, sent me an email. She ended with, “turning my face towards Bethlehem.”

Bethlehem bound.

What’s there to lose?

Or gain?


O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emanuel.”

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  • Reply Dale November 29, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Interesting as Marty and I just wrote a draft of our Christmas letter and used the phrase “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” as our theme. A preacher, Phillips Brooks wrote this in 1868 right after the Civil War. We will give you credit in our letter! What encouraged us in this song is God invites us to bring both our hopes and fears to Him and confirms that He is able to manage both.

    Thanks for sharing this encouraging message.

    Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 29, 2022 at 5:32 pm

      That’s what gets me when I sing it,, too. Thanks for mentioning Phillips Brooks. He was the rector at Trinity Church in Boston, an Episcopal church. Since I have leftover gratitude to express, I’m so thankful for you and Marty.

  • Reply shelly moran November 29, 2022 at 4:09 pm

    Absolutely beautiful, Jan.
    This weekend, I had the honor to sing with the Cape Ann Symphony in their Pops concert. The music was the most stunning I have sung in a long time. We sang the Halleluiah Chorus, And the Glory of the Lord from the Messiah. A Jewish piece, Ose Shalom and a couple of compilations of carols. But the piece de resistance was Faure’s Cantique. We sang it in French. Some how it moved everyone in the chorus of 50. We cannot get the music out of our heads.
    Here are the words.

    Word equal to God, the Almighty, our only hope,
    Eternal day of the earth and heavens;
    We break the silence of the peaceful night,
    Divine Saviour, look upon us!

    Fan the fire of your powerful grace upon us,
    So that all Hell may flee at the sound of your voice;
    Shake off the sleep of a languishing soul,7
    Who has forgotten your laws!

    O Christ, be kind to these faithful people
    Who have now gathered in thanks.
    Listen to the chants they offer to your immortal glory,
    And may they come away fulfilled with your gifts!

    If you can, look it up on Ytube. It is absolutely gorgeous.
    Blessings and see you tomorrow

  • Reply Jan Carlberg November 29, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks, dear Shelly. I love attending that Pops concert each year but couldn’t this past weekend. We had out of state guests and too much to navigate. On Friday, however, we saw the conductor having lunch next to us at a cafe in Boston.. My daughter-in-love, Kristina , spoke to him. He was his usual gregarious and gracious self. I look forward to being with you tomorrow at Community Bible Study. Thank you for your leadership role.

  • Reply Maggie Wallem Rowe November 29, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    Jan, I am Bethlehem Bound with you! I’m going there next week, in fact, at least in dramatic imagination as I continue to travel with the older Mary (whom, contrary to the opinion of some, doesn’t take to the road for personal appearances any longer.). I smiled to think of those on heaven’s porch singing along with you on earth’s perch. And the line you quoted is one of my favorites of all time – both hope and fear are inextricably intertwined in our journey through this poor planet. Grateful for your words too!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 29, 2022 at 6:23 pm

      Well, I’ve loved going on that journey with you and Mary before, dear Maggie. So happy to know you are still doing dramatic performances and blessing all who attend. Before you wrote books, which you do so well, you were a speaker/dramatist. You help all who listen to your words and watch realize life was no picnic for Mary at any age or stage of her life. As my friend, Dale, mentioned above, “God invites us to bring both our hopes and fears to Him and confirms He is able to manage both.” And Mary needed to hear more than most of us, “Fear not.”

  • Reply Radina Welton November 29, 2022 at 6:18 pm

    Love the way your thoughts gradually unfold like unwrapping manna for our souls, Jan! “In the bleak midwinter” I too, with hope, will turn my face toward Bethlehem and give my heart.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 29, 2022 at 6:28 pm

      How wonderful to hear from you, dear Radina, all the way from your new home in Oregon. Please hug that Petrocelli family for me. I imagine you’ve had to “faith” fears and hopes in a new place. May it be a place of flourishing for you and your family in body, mind and spirit. As a musician, this is YOUR season to perform and enjoy great Christmas music.

  • Reply dan russ November 29, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    “Our hope is built on nothing less… “Happy New Year, Jan, in this season of hope! Great love!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 30, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks, so much, dear Dan. Sending JOY to you and Kathy in Colorado. What would we do or be without HOPE! And yes, as a Baptist preacher’s kid I sang that hymn often, “On Christ the solid rock I stand.” The wind’s howling outside, sea’s choppy, waves massive as I write. And so I’m reminded of one of the verses from this hymn: “When darkness veils his lovely face I rest on His unchanging grace. IN EVERY HIGH AND STORMY GALE, MY ANCHOR HOLDS within the veil.”

  • Reply Wendy December 4, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    Just beautiful Jan. Exactly what I needed to read tonight. I have some “leftover gratitude to express” too – and so I thank the Lord for you! With all my heart. <3

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 6, 2022 at 1:41 pm

      Always good to hear from you, dear Wendy. May you, Steve and your family continue to bless many through your “tankful” hearts and welcoming ways. You know the gifts that come from refusing to hang NO VACANCY sings around your necks or at your front door.

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