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

As part of the classic hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” this little verse will be sung by millions of Christians during the Christmas season. But the words unfortunately mean little when swallowed by fierce attention to shopping, wrapping, and sweating over dozens, if not hundreds, of details.

Yet the words — taken in their fullest power — are striking, just as they were in 1868, when penned by Episcopal bishop Phillips Brooks.

Brooks, a Civil-war era champion of human rights, understood that for Christians, the birth of Jesus is not simply the birth of a holy child, but a revolution meant to touch the hearts and minds and spirits of all who believe, a winning of good over evil, a physical reminder that love and faith are meant to rule over despair and isolation.

In this Christmas season, when Congress is ill-spirited and ineffective, when the Census Bureau says that half of all Americans are “low-income or poor,” and when terrorism threatens the future of not only the Middle East but the world, here’s the real and lasting meaning of Christmas: hope.

Hope: That everyone, in this country and in all the countries of the world, have sufficient and healthy food to eat. May food banks go out of business because they are no longer needed, may all children go to sleep with full stomachs, may all mothers and fathers be able to feed their families without worry.

Hope: That all — young and old, rich and poor, immigrant or resident, “legal” or “illegal,” benefit from good medical care, here and abroad. May all have medicine and treatment and care and nurture when sick; may all have a clean bed and caring hands when they are dying; may all babies be treasured and born drug-free.

Hope: That taxes are understood as not only a way to provide for self and family, but are seen as an investment in roads and schools and hospitals and the future of this country. May such an understanding drive decisions in the halls of Congress, without rancor and without complaint.

Hope: That the homeless find shelter not just for the night, but for the rest of their lives; that all people — single and married, male or female — have a secure and warm place to sleep, preferably in their own home.

Hope: That the earth and the skies be restored to health so that life may be supported for as long as the earth exists.

And the fear? That all will continue as it is now, that the world will end due to chemical or biological warfare, that the economy will falter and not rise, that poverty and hunger and human stupidity will win the day.

For us, we believe in Hope.