It’s interesting how, God often uses the mundane and routine things in our lives. Philips Brooks, a great American preacher once said “It is while you are patiently toiling at the little tasks of life that the meaning and shape of the great whole of life dawns on you.”
Brooks was on a horse, in a tiny village, a half a world away from his home and family when God spoke to home inspiring him to write one of our favorite Christmas carols…
It was December 24, 1865. Philips Brooks was a tired Minister.
Brooks was six years into a ministry at Philadelphia’s Holy Trinity church when he was called upon to do the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln. A rapidly growing ministry and the funeral of President Lincoln took a toll on him and Brooks needed a sabbatical. He decided to go Israel.
On Christmas Eve, Brooks wanted to be alone and get away from the tourists. He was advised against it but, he got a horse and decide to ride to the city of Jesus birth.. Bethlehem. To get there, he had to cross a barren land on horseback which gave him time to think and reflect.
At dusk, Brooks watched the sun arise over Bethlehem. He was in awe as he thought about how it must have been when Jesus was born. His trip to Israel reinvigorated him and he returned home refreshed.
Upon arriving home, Brooks wanted to tell his church what he had experienced but he couldn’t. He had difficulty conveying how he felt that evening in Bethlehem. He added this experience to the log of his trip…”He also added this experience to the log of his trip: I was standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I know well, telling each other of the Saviour’s birth.” (cf Stories Behind The Great Songs of Christmas; Collins)
As he looked ahead to the next holiday season, Brooks tried to put in words his experience. He did and then, gave it to his friend, musician, Lewis Redner. Redner tried to come up with a tune to accompany the poem but.. to no avail. He went to bed on Christmas Eve.. frustrated… he felt he had failed.
But in the middle of the night… Redner awakened with a tune on his heart… a tune that fit perfectly with Brooks’ poem. Thus, on December 25th, Christmas day, the song was complete. It was a huge hit in Philadelphia. In six years, it would become one of the best known carols in America.
Today, Philips Brooks is known as one of the greatest preachers in church history. There is a building named for him at Harvard. Yet, it is as a songwriter, not a preacher, that Brooks is best known today.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is still a favorite today…
“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.”