Christmas songs #11: O little town of Bethlehem

Phillips Brooks, who wrote this song, had actually been in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve night. His meditation on the meaning of Christmas has to be one of the most thoughtful ones that we still sing.

And Brooks captures both the world-history part of Christmas and the Gospel part of Christmas too. It’s not enough to just be impressed, as I’m sure we all are, with the amazing story of God’s coming into the world, and how it changed everything. Brooks knows that the other part of that story is that not all of us actually want Jesus to be king and lord or even savior. So he focuses in on the people who actually receive the gift, namely the needy, the miserable, the meek, the ones who become like little children in their faith. Jesus actually said that those are the only ones he came to call. The “righteous” turned away from him.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus early in the gospel of John, “You must be born again.” So Phillips Brooks tells Jesus,

“Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (

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 men 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.

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 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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