Today’s Bible reading

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace. — Micah 5:2-5

More thoughts for meditation

Many hymns that were written originally for children have captured the imagination of everyone. Such is the case with “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) wrote the lyrics for the Sunday school children of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. He was inspired by his pilgrimage to Bethlehem in 1865. Louis H. Redner (1831-1908), a wealthy real estate broker who served as a church organist for his avocation (who increased Sunday school attendance from thirty-six to over one thousand during his nineteen years as superintendent) wrote the tune.

According to the story, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He wrote, “Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it, in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds. . . . Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks,’ or leading them home to fold.” He later participated in an observance in the Church of the nativity which lasted from 10 P.M. to 3 A.M.

The now omitted original fourth stanza seems directed to children, and certainly applies to children now locked in the ongoing violence and oppression of Palestine (see them above):

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 breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

The song beautifully describes the little town asleep in the December night; it also modulates from a description of the facts into an examination of the meaning of Christmas: first in its encouragement of charity and faith, and then into the coming of Christ into the human heart.

Suggestions for action

Isn’t that modulation where our meditations are designed to lead? As you listen to the song, appreciate the scene, the facts, and, mostly, the meaning of what is happening in Bethlehem, then and now — what happened for you then and what is happening in you and us, now.

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.

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