Summary: Learn the story behind the writing this Christmas carol and the message in the carol
Heritage Hills Baptist Church December 30, 2007
Title: O Little Town of Bethlehem
I have one more message to give you in the series on stories behind the writing of the Christmas carols and the message in the song themselves. Today we will study “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.
Turn in your hymnal to page 86.
I. History of the song
At the bottom of the page you see the name Philip Brooks. Brooks was an Episcopal Priest in Philadelphia. He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1865. It was Christmas Eve and he was headed to the Church of the Nativity for a worship service. While heading to Bethlehem he stopped to watch dusk envelope the town. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine especially at night.
Interestingly, Brooks kept these memories to himself for three years. Later he was motivated to share his memories with a church gathering and what he did was write a five stanza poem and he gave it to the church organist, Lewis Redner, who gave the poem its musical background. The song was born and heard for the first time on December 27, 1868.
II. Message in the song
Let me first focus on the significance of the town of Bethlehem in the prophesy of God’s Messiah.
The prophet Micah gives to us the clear message of where the Messiah would be born. Micah 5:2 READ
In this prophesy a specific city is given --- Bethlehem. Just in case you need confirmation that Micah’s prophesy refers to the Messiah notice the phrase “out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over my people Israel”.
You may remember when the Wise Men came to King Herod the advisors to the King knew this prophesy and told the Wise men where to go.
This passage is the one quoted in Matthew 2:1-8 READ
The devout Jews knew this promise of where the Messiah would be born; they just didn’t believe the time was now.
How God got Mary and Joseph to go to the city of Bethlehem at that particular time was through the census by the Roman governor. Luke 2:1 READ
Through what appears to us to be a series of circumstances, are in reality God’s divine working out of His will and the fulfillment of the prophesies of old.
I have asked Ruth Baker to give us some details about Bethlehem and particularly about the birth place of Jesus. Some of you may not know it but Ruth has a passion for Biblical archeology and is organizing a trip to Israel --- see her if you want to go.
Thank you Ruth.
We have studied how the song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” came to be written, and we have learned about the prophecy of the town and some of its history. Let us now study the message in the song itself.
1. The first two lines are part of the setting for the song. Remember Philip Brooks was out on the Judean hillside looking down on the village from afternoon until dark.
The last line of the first stanza is particularly striking to me, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”. Since we are a people who are on the other side of Christ’s birth, we may have trouble understanding the emotion people of that day must have felt as they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The hopes of this special night had finally come to be. To help you try to conjure up the emotions of this anticipation, for those of you with children, you have nine months to anticipate the birth of your child. You dream about what will she/Julie look like… what color hair … eyes …who will he or she favor … what will he/Jeremy do for his life vocation … all kinds of hopes feelings of anticipation. Try to imagine the emotion of the promise fulfilled?
The line in the song describes “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”. Fears? What kind of fears?
Fears --- that the promise of a Savior would never come to fulfillment.
Fear that all those sacrifices and religion was a waste of time.
In the birth of Jesus all the hopes were fulfilled and fears were laid to rest.
2. “For Christ is born of Mary” makes it crystal clear this is a song about the birth of Jesus. I applaud Philip Brooks for the accuracy of his song to scripture. In Jesus we have the birth of Christ. Liberals suggest Jesus was a prophet or a great teacher. Jesus is more than that --- He is the Messiah or Christ. The word Messiah is the Jewish word and Christ is the Greek language word. I use them interchangeably for the title and person of who Jesus was and is.