Receiving the Light • Devotion #5: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

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

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