Weâ€™re hearing all the wonderful old Christmas carols on the radio these days. I very much appreciate the secular stations playing them as well as the Christian stations.
Tonight Iâ€™ve been paging through my, â€œThen Sings My Soul,â€ book which contains 150 of the worldâ€™s greatest hymn stories. It was a gift to me from my forever friend, Jane Glander.
I happened upon, â€œO Little Town of Bethlehem,â€ which has been beloved by me since I was a child. At the top of the page I read, â€œBethlehem . . . . . though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel. . . Micah 5:2
From page 167 of â€œThen Sings My Soul,â€ hereâ€™s the story of how this hymn came to be as told to us by Robert J. Morgan:
At nearly 6 feet 6 inches, weighing 300 pounds, Phillips Brooks cast a long shadow. He was a native Bostonian, the ninth generation of distinguished Puritan stock, who entered the Episcopalian ministry and pastured with great power in Philadelphia and in Boston. His sermons were topical rather than expositional, and heâ€™s been criticized for thinness of doctrine. Nonetheless heâ€™s considered one of Americaâ€™s greatest preachers. His delivery came in lightening bursts; he felt he had more to say than time in which to say it.
While at Philadelphiaâ€™s Holy Trinity Church, Brooks, 30, visited the Holy Land. On December 24, 1865, traveling by horseback from Jerusalem, he attended a five hour Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was deeply moved. â€œI remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem,â€ he later said, â€œclose to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the wonderful night of the Saviorâ€™s birth.â€
Three years later, as he prepared for the Christmas season of 1867, Brooks wanted to compose an original Christmas hymn for children to sing during their annual program. Recalling his magical night in Bethlehem, he wrote a little hymn of five stanzas and handed the words to his organist, Lewis Redner, saying, â€œLewis, why not write a new tune for my poem. If it is a good tune, I will name in, â€˜St. Lewisâ€™ after you.â€
Lewis struggled with his assignment, complaining of no inspiration. Finally, on the night before the Christmas program, he awoke with the music ringing in his soul. He jotted down the melody, then went back to sleep. The next day, a group of six Sunday school teachers and 36 children sang, â€œO Little Town of Bethlehem.â€
Brooks was so pleased with the tune that he did indeed name it for his organist, changing the spelling to St. Louis so as not to embarrass him. The fourth stanza, usually omitted from our hymnbooks, says :
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.
End of Morganâ€™s story.
Yes, Christmas is coming once more â€“ in fact, itâ€™s almost here. Have you prepared your hearts as well as your homes?