O Little Town of Bethlehem

December 09, 2021

“As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah—from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past.” Micah 5:2

As the story goes, Phillips Brooks, a rising young preacher and staunch abolitionist, was asked to give the funeral address for President Abraham Lincoln, You can imagine that he was sure that his eloquent eulogy would be the most famous lines he would ever pen.

He was wrong.

Shortly afterward, exhausted from years of war and hoping to find some peace, he took a sabbatical from preaching to visit the Holy Land.

While he was in the still insignificant Bethlehem, and while looking out at the landscape at night, that the lines for a poem jumped to his mind:

O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, a silent star goes by.

It wasn’t until several years later that he came back to the poem and completed it. His organist, Lewis Redner, added the beautilful music and a song was born for the ages.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” was first performed by the children’s choir in his church and went on to be included in hymnals as a seasonal favorite.

But one child would find special meaning in Brooks’ song:

Helen Keller, the famous educator, who was born deaf and blind, met Brooks years later.

In fact, he was the one who explained the gospel to her for the first time.Through her teacher and translator, Anne Sullivan, Helen told him, “I’ve always known there was a God, but until now I’ve never known His name.”

The carol’s third verse, though written years before Brooks met Keller, perfectly captures the joy of salvation that arrived to a deaf and blind child. Her ears could not hear His coming, but her heart had long recognized His presence:

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.

 Can your heart recognize His presence? 

When you understand the significance of the birth of Jesus in that little town of Bethlehem, you are on your way to a deeper, more fulfilling Christmas than you’ve ever known.