O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM                                                       written in 1868

The Story

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was a giant of a man and a prince of a preacher. When his 6’6” frame filled the pulpit, the people of his churches learned and responded. He served Episcopal congregations in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts… and gained an increasing name as preacher and patriot. During the American Civil War, he upheld the cause of the North and opposed slavery, and his sermon on the death of Abraham Lincoln was an eloquent expression of the character of both men.

In 1865, Phillips went to the Holy Land and was especially impressed by a Christmas Eve service at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. 3 years later, he needed a Christmas song for the children’s service at his church in Philadelphia. Since he loved children, he decided to write a song himself. For inspiration, he thought back to his experience in the Holy Land. In doing so, he wrote this song.

He died unmarried in 1893. His death was a major event in the history of Boston. One observer reported: “They buried him like a king. Harvard students carried his body on their shoulders. All barriers of denomination were down. Roman Catholics and Unitarians felt that a great man had fallen in Israel.”

Today, Phillips is best known for writing the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem“. But, Brooks also introduced Helen Keller to Christianity and to Anne Sullivan.

The Story

            Read this Christmas carol, and –today – imagine what it might have been in like in that little town called Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born.

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 tonight.

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 all 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.

O, holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.


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