In 1868, Episcopalian Pastor Phillip Brooks needed a song for the kids to sing at a Christmas service at his church. Not satisfied with any other songs he had heard, Brooks decided to write a song himself. Inspired by a Christmas Eve service Brooks had attended in Bethlehem during a Holy Land trip three years prior, Brooks sat down and wrote the song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Not only did the children in his church sing this song in their Christmas program, but millions more continue to sing the song today, some 150 years later. Think about that for a moment. This Philadelphia Pastor has a top hit that has lasted 15 decades! Knowing that best sellers in the iTunes music store top the charts for only about 15 days and even the best of our contemporary praise and worship songs might only persist for about 15 years, Brooks song is amazingly durable. What is it about this song that has allowed it to endure?
I think the message of this hymn is very powerful. I have always been struck by the phrase at the end of the first verse, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” The idea that Jesus Christ comforts our deepest fears and provides for us our greatest hope is an amazingly powerful message! As I ponder the significance of this phrase, I am reminded of 1 Peter 1:8-9 (which will form the crux of my Christmas Eve message at Wildwood this year), “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Our deepest fear is death. Our greatest hope is eternal life in fellowship with our Creator, the salvation of our souls. Truly, in Christ the hopes and fears of all the years are met.
As you read the words to this hymn today (and as you sing this song many times in the days to come) may you be reminded of the comfort and hope Jesus Christ provides to you and me.
“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 won-d’ring 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 giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
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.”