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 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 giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd 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.
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;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Word by Phillips Brooks, 1867
Music by Lewis H. Redner, 1868
“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, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
“No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. “Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over.
Isaiah 60:19 – 20
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I grew up in a small town, (Well, technically, I grew up on a farm outside of a small town) and while it was under 1,000 people, it was a booming metropolis when compared to the town my wife’s parents were living in during the fall 1997. The town consisted of roughly 45 people. There was a Church, a grain elevator, an elementary school and houses, all located on 5 or 6 streets. We visited them at their house for Christmas that year and one evening I decided to take a walk around town. Understand, we had been living in the suburbs of Chicago for the better part of 9 years, so what struck me was how peaceful it was. I could freely walk the streets, literally down the middle of the street, enjoying the quiet time to myself. As I walked through that sleepy little town at Christmas I could not help find thoughts of the Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” running through my head.
This Christmas hymn by Phillips Brooks begins with the words, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” Bethlehem was certainly a small town with a population of roughly 300 – 750 people. additionally, it was not a place of major significance. This is why it seems surprising that Micah prophesied in chapter 5 verse 2 “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, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This simple small town held a great promise of hope.
So the hymn continues, “Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light.” This light was promised in Isaiah 60:19. where we read “you will have the LORD for an everlasting light.” God promised that He would come to a world lost in darkness and so Jesus is the light shining in the darkness. (John 1:5) He is the answer to “the hopes and fears of all the years.”
Yes the darkness of this world can seem overwhelming, but Jesus’s everlasting light shines forth that we may see. So it is from this simple seemingly insignificant town, that light came to a dark world. It is a light that shines the way to Christ, who alone as our source of salvation. We, therefore, can humbly come before Him with the prayer, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
Traditional American Version
Traditional British Version (Forest Green)
Read more about “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”