Little Town of Bethlehem

December 23, 1999

During this Christmas week, I thought it would be refreshing to take a break from the political and social commentaries that I do and focus on the music of Christmas. Today I would like to look at the hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem" written in 1867 by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal pastor from Philadelphia who had celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem.

The first verse reads: "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."

On Christmas day the streets are quiet and most people are at home. And it is quite possible that Bethlehem was quiet on the night Jesus was born. But the real focus is on the fact that although Christ was born, it was pretty much business as usual. Few noticed that a baby was born.

One of the lines from the second verse reads: "While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love." That's really true today. Life goes on, and most people are oblivious to the spiritual reality around them.

The third verse continues: "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." Jesus Christ came to this world quietly. Granted there was the angelic pronouncement to the shepherds, but that was about it: hardly the pomp and circumstance we would expect of a future King. He came not to dwell in a castle but in human hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And that's the good news of Christmas: a Savior who was born to live in us that we might have everlasting life.