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O Little Town of Bethlehem

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This is the second in a series of getting to know the writer and story behind our beloved Christmas hymns.

The first one, “Silent Night,” set the stage for this series to tell of the events of that first Christmas morning and to share the story of Christmas in song. The first one set the night in which Christ was born. See: “Silent night: The song, the story and the videos.

This one will take you to the town where He was born, “O Little Town of Bethlehem!”

The story:

“Phillip Brooks (1835-1893) was well known as a preacher of excellence within the Episcopal Church, and as an American patriot. During the American Civil War he took a firm public stand against slavery. “

“He held a Doctorate of Divinity from Oxford, and was a teacher at Yale University. Harvard University established the Phillip Brooks House, a social services establishment dedicated to "the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality."

“Phillip was a published author and was the subject of a biography published by one of his peers. The Episcopal Church held him in such high esteem that a statue of him standing near a cross was erected in his honor, near his pastorate.”

“In 1865, Brooks traveled to the Holy Lands. On December 24th he made his way on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where he attended a five-hour Christmas musical praise celebration at the Church of the Nativity -- just a short distance from the hillside where the shepherds heard the very first Christmas song.”

“At Christmastime three years later, recalling that magical night in Bethlehem, Phillip wrote a song for the children's choir of his church. His organist put melody to his words and on Christmas Eve, 1868, O Little Town of Bethlehem was sung for the very first time.”

I remember learning this little song in public school – yes public school and in my mine’s eye, even as a child, I could picture this tiny little sleepy town where a miracle took place while the towns people slept. Often people are sleeping when wonderful things happen because they choose to be asleep rather than keeping watch.

Perhaps the world of today is still sleeping and in doing so will miss the glory of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. It wasn’t that the Jewish people didn’t know that He would come one day. They had been taught from birth that one day God would send a Savior to the world.

“How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:9-11

The people were warned just as they are today – Jesus first came as a babe in swaddling clothes and He will return as conqueror and redeemer and the Bible warns once again against those who are sleeping and slumbering.

“No one knows about that day or hour. Not even the angels in heaven know. The Son does not know. Only the Father knows. “Keep watch! Stay awake! You do not know when that time will come.” Mark 13: 32:33

There is a commercial that advertises taking aspirin as a preventative of a heart attack – it basically says that you do not get an advance warning that a heart attack is coming like the lady in the commercial did when she received a letter in the mail. They indicate that when the attack comes it will be too late so they advise that you take precautions beforehand.

While the signs of the times grow more and more toward the Second Coming of Christ – no one has it written on their calendar. We are to always watch, pray, and be ready for we know not when the Son of God will return.

O little town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, 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 to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

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.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the mother mild;

Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.

We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIV) Source: Share/Faith

Frank Sinatra sings, “O Little Town of Bethlehem!” Listen to him sing as you follow along with the words written above– so much more meaning this way.

For more information about the town of Bethlehem, you may wish to check out this link.

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