23 MORE DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS!
An Episcopal Priest from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania named Phillips Brooks wrote the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem in 1868 three after visiting the tiny town of Bethlehem and being inspired by that visit. The music was added by the church organist named Lewis Redner.
Commentary & Analysis
This song comments on the seeming clash between the silent and sleepy town of Bethlehem and the birth of God in that town one sleepy silent night. Theologically the song is dead on! In the dark streets of Bethlehem, like our darkened heart, God shines an everlasting light in the form of his son Jesus Christ.
Verses like John 3:19 confirm for us that Jesus was “the light [which] is come into the world.” In Revelation 22:13, Jesus reminds us:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. [Revelation 22:13 KJV]
Truly, on a dark night in Bethlehem was born the one who the Jews had prophesied about and waited for throughout the entire Old Testament – the Son of God.
The second verse recounts the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds which is told in Luke:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. [Luke 2:8-14 KJV]
Verse 3 speaks of the personal relationship between Jesus and those who accept him. When we, in our meekness (Matthew 5:5), admit our need for him, Jesus comes to live in us (Galatians 2:20). The fourth verse of this carol steps away from the Biblical account of Christmas, but does provide great insight into the cultural importance of Christmas and the impact Christ can have in our lives touching on the need for prayer, mercy, charity and faith all of which were manifested in the birth of Christ. The final verse offers a prayer that Christ would come abide in us, “cast away” our sins, and that we would be born again (John 3:3).
Questions for further Reflection / Devotion
The following questions are meant for your reflection and or devotion. Feel free to meditate on them, discuss them with your family or others or post your responses here. I would love to hear from you.
- Have you invited Jesus Christ into your heart yet? If not, why? What is keeping you from accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
- What do you suppose is meant by the line “No ear may hear his coming” in the third verse on the song?
- What is your mental picture of the town of Bethlehem? How much is it influenced by Christmas carols?
- Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins through his death on the cross and those are “cast out” when we he accept him as Lord, yet he tells us to confess our sins to one another. Do you have any unconfessed sin which is keeping you from fully appreciating the joy of this Christmas season?
- The very first verse discusses the meeting of hope and fear. What aspect do these two emotions have in your relationship with Jesus Christ?
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 to-night.
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.
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!