Words: Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)
Music: Lewis Redner (1831-1908)
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 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 today! We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
Although not a professional poet, Phillips Brooks could write a hymn, a carol or a poem with almost effortless ease. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he came from a Christian family which excelled both academically and musically. Even as a child, Phillips was always singing, and by the time he was 16 years old, he knew 200 songs by heart! As a young man, he was a miserable failure in his first position as a Latin profes sor, and it was only when he surrendered himself wholly and completely to God, thai he found his calling in life. At the age of 24, Brooks was ordained a pastor, and took charge of a church in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although he remained a bachelor all his life, Brooks was especially fond of children. It is said that he kept a supply of toys, dolls and other objects of interest to children in his study so that youngsters would be encouraged to drop in and chat with him. A familiar sight was this important man sitting on the floor of his study, having a fun time with a group of children. Brooks was especially interested in Sun-day School music. He loved to hear children sing, and so it's not surprising that he wrote his best song for them, the story of which is as follows: In 1865, Brooks made a trip to Palestine. The experience found the 33-year-old Brooks with his travelling party in Bethlehem during Christmas week. The trip made an unforgettable impression upon him, but the song he was eventually to write as a result of his travels was alinost three years away. Three years later as Brooks prepared his Christmas program and services, he reflected upon his visit to the Holy Land tluce years earlier, the impressions and inspiration of which seemed to be permanently stamped upon his heart. The still vivid memory moved the pastor-poet to express his feelings and sentiments in a lovely poem, written especially with the children of his parish24 in mind. He captured the mystery of that first Christmas in a carol which began with these lines: "O little to wit 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 aitd fears of all the years Are met ii? thee tonight." And in the last stanza, Brooks prayed that the Holy Child of Bethlehem would be born anew in each heart. The following day when Mr. Lewis Redner, the church organist and also the Sunday School superintendent, came into the minister's study, Brooks handed him a piece of paper on which he had written a copy of this new poem. "Lewis," he said to his friend and coworker, "why not write a new tune for my poem?" Redner smiled as he glanced over the five stanzas and replied, "I'll do what I can, Phillips." Brooks urged Redner to do what he could as quickiy as possible, since the Christmas services were only days away! Although he had ample time in which to compose a suitable tune, Redner delayed until it was almost too late. When Brooks questioned him about the tune, Redner gave the pastor the age-old answer of frustrated composers, "No inspiration!" Upon retiring, the night before Brooks had planned for a group of children to introduce the song, Redner had still not come up with a single line of music. During the night, Redner suddenly awakened from his sleep, the new tune ringing in his ears! He jotted the melody down as rapidly as he could and then went back to bed for a few hours of contented and undisturbed sleep. Very early the next morning, he harmonized his original melody, declaring that it "was a gift from Heaven." A group of six Sunday School teachers and thirty-six children sang it from newly printed leaflets on December 27, 1868. Brooks, sitting in the back of the room, was thrilled to hear the children sing his song. The carol was an immediate favorite with everyone-especially the children. Brooks passed away on January 23, 1893, in his 58th year. He was loved by all who came in contact with hirn, and his sudden death was greatly mourned by everyone who knew him. The story is told of a fiveyear-old girl who was upset because she hadn't seen her preacher friend for several days. When told by her mother that Dr. Bishop Phillips Brooks had gone to Heaven, the child exclaimed, "Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be!"
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