A Hymn for Advent

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice! Let all men know your forbearance; the Lord is at
hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4-7 RSV

I know I speak for many of us in saying that one of the most special parts of the Advent season is
listening to and singing beautiful Christmas hymns. I’ve often asked family members what their “top three favorites” are, at the same time admitting how hard it is for me to narrow it down. I will say that my personal “short list” has been revised many times through the years– except for “O Holy Night,” which for me is in a category all its own.

But I digress! I want to talk about a sweet and special hymn written in 1868: “O Little Town of
Bethlehem.” Phillips Brooks was the pastor at Holy Trinity Church, Philadelphia, when he wrote the words for his children’s choir’s Christmas program. Apparently he was inspired by his trip three years prior to the Holy Land, where he worshiped on Christmas Eve at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Brooks asked Lewis Redner, church organist and Sunday School superintendent, to compose a “simple melody that children could sing easily.” Redner later said that he struggled with this assignment until waking up during the night before the program with much of the melody formed in his head; he referred to it as “a gift from heaven.”

Perhaps as you go about your day today, the words of your favorite verse can resonate in your thoughts and help “keep you heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in the 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.

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;
oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Heavenly Father, Please focus us, calm us, help us experience joy anew at the advent/ coming of your precious son and our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Carolyn Rex