Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

From time to time I offer up a hymn for reflection, and today I present O Little Town of Bethlehem, written in 1868 by the Reverend Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest from Philadelphia. He was inspired by a trip he took in 1865 to Bethlehem. The words below are from Wikipedia, and the fourth verse is one I have never seen:
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 to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, oh 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.

Where children 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.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

1 comment:

Betsy said...

I've loved this hymn for many years! After reading your BLOG, a friend helped me search for an explanation of the missing dark verse 4. It was written by the original author, printed in the Oxford Book of Carols (1928) with slight variations to avoid any reference to immaculate conception (which seemed not to be in vogue in the early 1900's, especially among the Protestants).

"(1) Bishop Brooks’s biographer says of this carol: “It is an exquisitely simple thing, and yet one feels “behind the words the existence of a great soul, meditating on the mystery of the divine revelation.” Is this a true characterization? He suggests further that “It has also a theological significance—the adjustment between the natural order and the divine revelation.”


Where children pure and happy
Pray to the Blessed Child
Where misery cries out to Thee
Son of the Undefiled
Where Charity stands watching
And Faith holds wide the door
The dark night wakes the glory hearts
And Christmas comes once more

(2) "In the original manuscript of the carol there was a fourth verse not used in the hymn books. Its form as first written appears in the facsimile. Mr. Redner writes: “The fourth line led to some amusing criticism lest it should smack of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Brooks then changed that line to ‘Son of the Mother mild,’ (and so it appears in the Christmas programme of 1868), but he afterwards decided to omit the fourth verse altogether from the carol.” Is it worth while to restore the omitted verse?' (Retrieved from:

The Episcopalians still sing it. And while I have not confirmed it, the older Methodist Hymnal may have had the verse as well. I know I have sung it before, although not often.

Yet still, it is a comforting hymn that has stood the test of time. In my 50's I still look forward to and sing this hymn with great gusto (the words paint a beautiful picture of Bethlehem still).