The music of Christmas is one of our favorite things about this season—rich in wonder and powerful in theology.
Rob Morgan has written several volumes of hymn stories, including Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories. He reviews the story behind the Christmas hymn, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas through music.
“It was written by Phillips Brooks who was it giant of a man, he was 6’6” and weighed 300 hundred pounds. He pastored in the 1800’s in churches in Philadelphia and Boston. It’s said that he preached very fast, he had so much to say…he was from distinguished Puritan stock.”
Rob adds that Phillips Brooks visited the Holy Land in 1865, which ultimately planted the seed for this song in his heart.
“He made that long awaited pilgrimage and on Christmas Eve of that year, in 1865, he went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Later he said, ‘I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem close to the spot where Jesus was born and the whole church was ringing, hour after hour, with splendid hymns of praise.’”
“3 years later, as he prepared for his Christmas season at his church in Philadelphia, he wanted to compose an original Christmas hymn for the children to sing during their annual program.”
‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ was first introduced by a Sunday school assembly choir. Rob explains that night:
“Recalling that magical night in Bethlehem 3 years earlier, he wrote this little hymn and handed it to his organist Lewis Redner and ask him if he would write a new tune for this poem and he did. It was sung that year at the Sunday school assembly by the children, as the first time that anyone had ever sung this new hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!”
The good news is that there’s light shining in the darkness still today!
As we reflect on the lyrics to this timeless Christmas hymn, let us remember the true meaning of Christmas: Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
“O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!”