In 1865, after a trip to Bethlehem, Phillips Brooks wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday school children at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia.
Discipleship Ministries posted an article entitled, “History of Hymns: ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’” Dr. Hawn records, “According to the story, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
‘Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it, in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds…Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks,’ or leading them home to fold.’”
It was his goal to help children put themselves on the scene. This has great value.
He gently sets the tone in verse one.
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see Thee lie
Above Thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Verse two expresses that Jesus is the answer to our “hopes and fears.” Put yourself there thinking of your goals and concerns and give them to the special baby.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight
Brooks references our sin and misery, but verse eight gives a beautiful image. Think of “charity” holding open the door for you. God’s love paved the way. Look at love. Place “charity” in your visual nativity scene.
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks
And Christmas comes once more
As you kneel to the Savior in the manger, acknowledge your sin, seek forgiveness, and turn from your sin as you follow Him. You can be born again because of His birth.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
Finally, in the tenth and final verse, pause from your hectic schedule that has your feet and mind racing through life. Listen to the angels singing. Allow yourself to be awed as you realize you are in the presence of God.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel