O Little Town of Bethlehem
Words by Phillips Brooks
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 all 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 in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!
Micah 5:2 English Standard Version (ESV)
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
God’s ways are not our ways.
I grew up in a tiny village in Michigan, and when we used to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” I always imagined a similarly tiny town, draped in silence in the dead of night, sleeping right through the most glorious and stunning event in history. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the same thing happening in my sleepy village– Christ could have come to any of a dozen sway-backed sheds or garages around town without fanfare as hundreds of strangers crammed into local houses and public buildings, eager to be done with a bizarre census that led them back to where their ancestors once lived. There is nothing special about my hometown to anyone but those of us who grew up there.
Bethlehem was just such a small town. Prophecy that a king would arise from such a backwater village was mostly ignored. Four hundred years had passed since the last mention of Bethlehem by God or any of His prophets. No one expected a miracle there, just as no one would expect a miracle in our little town today.
We expect big things to happen in big cities– bustling, surging, modern, energy-filled cities. This is where grand events are held– political rallies, sold-out concerts, championship sporting events, groundbreaking new developments in business and medicine, coronations and ceremonies. But God often works in the quiet spaces and unexpected places of our world and in our lives. He comes softly and silently into the dark corners and forgotten nooks filling them with His glory.
And He gives us the privilege of sharing in this miracle– wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances. Christ did not spend most of His life on earth in the halls of power or the centers of commerce. He didn’t “tour” the university circuit giving lectures, or fill great auditoriums while His image was splashed across a Jumbo-tron. He walked humbly from small village to small town, spreading truth and love and drawing people to Himself, that they might believe and find true life. He modeled how we can extend His grace– starting with those in our own small towns or neighborhoods–with simple acts and earnest prayers like the ones in this song:
“Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
“Oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”