Phillip Brooks was no small man. At 6’ 8” tall, he was a giant, but he was also the most respected minister in America in his day, serving at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia. The Civil War took its toll on everyone, including Reverend Brooks. Weary of such a brutal war, he was in need of a rest so he was sent on sabbatical to the holy land by his church. The year was 1865.
It was during his visit that he had an experience he would never forget. He joined a group of pilgrims who traveled by horseback to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. As he approached the small town in the still of the night, his caravan passed by the fields where the shepherds would have been tending their sheep so many years ago.
His emotions overwhelmed him. He continued on to Bethlehem where he worshipped with the others near the birthplace of Jesus, into the early morning hours. It was a night he would never forget.
Three years later, he wrote a poem for the children of his church to sing on Christmas Day. He approached his church organist about putting it to music. Lewis Redner set his mind to it but nothing seemed to fit. Then, as Christmas Day drew near, he woke up in the middle of the night with a tune playing in his head. He grabbed a pen a wrote it down.
The tune was simple and perfect for Rev. Brooks’ poem. The result was a Christmas Carol that has stood the test of time and become a classic sung by millions of churchgoers every Christmas. Here are the lyrics to Brooks and Redner’s Christmas Carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
1-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.
2-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.
3-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.
4- O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.