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Hymns of the Season: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Phillips Brooks was a graduate of Harvard College and Virginia Theological Seminary, and rector of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. He took a sabbatical in the Fall of 1865, and while touring the Middle East visited Jerusalem. On Christmas Eve he borrowed a horse and made the arduous 6-mile journey to Bethlehem to worship in the Church of the Nativity. Later, he wrote in his journal: "I was standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise . . . telling each other of the Saviour's birth." When he returned home, he told friends the Christmas Eve experience would forever be "singing in my soul."

Three years later in 1868, as the Christmas season approached, Brooks reflected back on his deeply moving experience in Bethlehem. While the memories flooded in, he began writing a poem to be sung at the Sunday School Christmas program. He hurried to show the poem to his close friend, Lewis Redner, the organist and Sunday School administrator at Holy Trinity Church. Redner was asked to compose a simple melody that children could sing. He struggled to find a tune. Then one night Redner was suddenly awakened from his sleep with a tune in his head. He told friends the tune was a gift from God. The carol became a favorite of children and adults alike.

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 Thy wondrous gift is giv'n!
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.

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 heavenly angels, The great tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!

Enjoy this a cappella rendition of O Little Town of Bethlehem by The Living Stones Quartet.