843 Acres Advent: O Little Town of Bethlehem
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV, later quoted by Matthew)
Phillips Brooks was a Harvard graduate with a struggling career as a teacher. Although brilliant, he was frustrated with his students’ lack of ambition. After turning to pursue a career in ministry, he graduated from seminary in 1859. Two years later, he was called to lead the congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, where he met Lewis Redner.
Together, Brooks and Redner became well known for their music and children’s programs. By 1863, the same year that President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, Brooks began to grow tired. In the midst of the Civil War, his congregation expected him to inspire them. They wanted peace and turned to him for assurance. As the war was drew to a close, Brooks was hopeful that things would settle down, but then the President was assassinated in April 1865. Although Brooks was not Lincoln’s pastor, he was asked to speak at the funeral because of his oratory skills.
Exhausted from the war, Brooks decided to take a sabbatical and set out for the Middle East. On Christmas Eve of 1865, he was in Jerusalem—far from his home in Philadelphia. That evening, he went to the fields outside of Bethlehem and meditated on the birth of the Messiah. He later told his family and friends that the experience was so overwhelming that it would forever be “singing in my soul.”
When he returned, he felt that he was at a loss of words to convey how meaningful his trip to the Holy Land was. He first wrote about it in his journal and then he wrote a poem in 1868. That year, on Christmas Eve, Redner composed music to accompany the poem. They shared the hymn with their friends in Philadelphia and, by 1874, it was published in The Church Porch music collection.
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.
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!
M’Cheyne Reading As Scheduled:
Friday, December 6: 2 Chr 5-6:11 (text | audio, 3:53 min) & 1 Jn 4 (text | audio, 3:02 min)
Saturday, December 7: 2 Chr 6:12-42 (text | audio, 5:19 min) & 1 Jn 5 (text | audio, 2:53 min)
Sunday, December 8: 2 Chr 7 (text | audio, 4:52 min) & 2 Jn 1 (text | audio, 1:43 min)
Special Note: As with any good music activity, we are taking requests. If you have a favorite song that you would like to see featured, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.