But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel. Micah 5:2
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a favorite Christmas hymn for many people. It was written by Phillips Brooks, whose story of faith and how he came to write this hymn are an inspiration. Brooks wanted to be a teacher, but failing to meet qualifications, he was let go from his teaching position. He felt like a complete failure. He would later write: "I do not know what will become of me and I do not care much.… I wish I were fifteen years old again. I believe I might become a stunning man: but somehow or other I do not seem in the way to come to much now.” Ever said or thought similar words?
He would discover God had other plans for him. Feeling called to ministry he entered seminary and was eventually ordained. He would go on to serve the famed Trinity Church in Boston where a statue of him stands outside the building today. He was one of the most popular preachers in America, not just for the personal hope he gave people, but also for the stands for justice he took.
In 1865, just as the Civil War ended, he traveled to the Holy Land. He was so inspired by his visit to Bethlehem, when he returned home he wrote a song for children to sing, a song that not only captured the experience of being in Bethlehem but the spiritual inspiration he experienced there. He wanted people to know the hope that Christ brings.
The organist wrote the music to go with the lyrics and now more than 150 years later we still sing “where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.” Unfortunately, one of the most powerful lines from the original hymn has not been kept in modern publications. It goes:
Where children are 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.
You wonder how much of Brooks’ own life and experiences were woven into those words. As this hymn so powerfully reminds us, Christmas gives us hope that as we keep the door of our hearts and faith open we eventually find God’s presence and power.