O Little Town of Bethlehem

by Mickey Rapier | Dec. 5, 2018

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”

MICAH 5:2 NLT

Phillip Brooks was a minister who lived in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. He had a knack for bringing joy to children, and in his day, he was a giant of a man, standing 6’6” inches tall. He served Holy Trinity Church during the tumultuous days of the Civil War, from 1859 to 1869. Known as a gifted orator, he was branded as “The Prince of the Pulpit.” Though a bachelor, he was also known for his love of children. He kept toys and dolls in his office so that children would stop in and see him. He could often be found sitting on the floor of his study, laughing and playing with youngsters from his parish.

In 1865, Brooks had an incredible experience that would later serve as inspiration to touch the hearts of children and adults the world over. He spent Christmas Eve riding horseback through fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem where angels had announced the birth of the Christ child. Later that night, he worshipped at The Church of the Nativity, the traditional place noted for Christ’s birth. He wrote that his soul was stirred by the experience.

Three years later, he was looking for just the right song for the beloved children of his church to sing for a Christmas service. Inspired by the memory of that quiet night in Bethlehem, he penned the words of a poem, then gave them to Lewis Redner, the church’s Sunday School Superintendent and church organist. He asked Redner to write a simple melody that the children could easily learn and sing. Redner struggled to compose just the right melody, but inspiration arrived just in the nick of time. He was awakened in the middle of the night and completed the melody without delay, insisting the tune was a gift from heaven. So, for the Christmas service at Holy Trinity Church in 1868, the children sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” now hailed as one of our finest Christmas Carols. But Brooks passed away before the carol gained world-wide notoriety. Little did he know that one day his poem’s images would capture the imaginations of millions.

“When the Savior takes up residence in your heart, your very existence can change the world around you.” 

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” Such a tiny, insignificant town was chosen to be the birthplace of the Savior. Not known as a house of gold, but a rather ordinary “house of bread.” What happened in Bethlehem should be a reminder to all who feel small and insignificant… when the Savior takes up residence in your heart, your very existence can change the world around you. Remember that as you sing the carol this Christmas. The tranquil images of the first two phrases of the first stanza bring us peace, but the last two give us hope. Peace and hope; born of a Savior and captured by simple words accompanied by a humble, simple melody. What a beautiful gift to give the world.

Today’s Reading: Micah 5:2-4 NLT

11 Comments

  1. Darla Beller

    Sweet! Jesus’ humble beginning that characterized his entire life is our example. Our truest identity as believers is in Him and He is the one who exalts us. Jesus may have appeared to a simple carpenter from a tiny little town, but he knew who he really was. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! With Jesus, my example, I may appear to be ordinary, but I am made in the image of God, powerful and purposeful! But, that is not of what I boast. I boast in my redemption! And my life I give to be used up for him, his purposes, and his glory! Thank you for this sweet message, Mickey!

    Reply
  2. Beth Walker

    I found the share button and have successfully sent it to someone unsure of their salvation
    Thank you for making that available

    Reply
  3. Joy Newberry

    “When the Savior takes up residence in your heart, your very existence can change the world around you”

    Lord, as we stay in step with the Holy Spirit, may we make a difference that honors You wherever our journey takes us!

    Thank You Mickey!
    Christmas and New Year Blessings!

    Reply
  4. Willie Jackson

    Well done, Mickey. Thanks for sharing. God Bless.

    Reply
  5. Keisha

    Just taught a group of girls yesterday afternoon about the place, town, and details of the birth of Christ. Ordinary girls, filled with the spirit, to do extraordinary things!!! Such a good word.

    Reply
  6. Holly Tanner

    Thank You for the beautiful words of wisdom and historical lesson! God Bless

    Reply
  7. Rhonda Moore

    Mickey,
    Thank you for sharing and making this beautiful song come alive!

    Reply
  8. Beth woessner

    Hi Mickey,
    Just a quick note of thanks! I so love our church’s advent devotionals written by a variety of staff authors. The personalization of that helps me connect not only to the story of advent with the coming of Christ the baby but also to each author. I get to know them a bit more through these daily devotions.

    This devotion awakens me yet again to the power of music. You sharing the personal stories behind the music takes me from “rote” singing the song to real appreciation for the words and melody. The so often sung song, comes alive again by knowing how it was birthed. Thank you for your passion for music, story telling, history and Christ. I have learned a lot about music, why and how it was written because of your frequent teachings over the years. Thank you!

    I also want to express the similar connection of music and story with art and story. The same kinds of history behind the art, helps that painting have more depth, more appreciation and connection for the viewers.
    Spectra does such a beautiful service to our artists and audience on our “show and tell” evenings when the artist shares their story of the how and why behind their created art. It is a human, relational and creative connection that I am grateful to experience.

    Just feeling extra moved this morning and wanted to share and say how much I appreciate you and our church!

    Reply
  9. Robyn Yates

    Love this.

    Reply
  10. Anita Royko

    Thanks for sharing the origin story of one of my favorite Christmas songs!

    Reply
  11. Brad

    Mickey how do you know the story behind every song?! My family and I always love when you give context to songs. There’s way to many songs we don’t actually understand. Keep em’ coming! That was so rad.

    Reply

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

BY: Mickey Rapier | Dec. 5, 2018

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”

MICAH 5:2 NLT

Phillip Brooks was a minister who lived in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. He had a knack for bringing joy to children, and in his day, he was a giant of a man, standing 6’6” inches tall. He served Holy Trinity Church during the tumultuous days of the Civil War, from 1859 to 1869. Known as a gifted orator, he was branded as “The Prince of the Pulpit.” Though a bachelor, he was also known for his love of children. He kept toys and dolls in his office so that children would stop in and see him. He could often be found sitting on the floor of his study, laughing and playing with youngsters from his parish.

In 1865, Brooks had an incredible experience that would later serve as inspiration to touch the hearts of children and adults the world over. He spent Christmas Eve riding horseback through fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem where angels had announced the birth of the Christ child. Later that night, he worshipped at The Church of the Nativity, the traditional place noted for Christ’s birth. He wrote that his soul was stirred by the experience.

Three years later, he was looking for just the right song for the beloved children of his church to sing for a Christmas service. Inspired by the memory of that quiet night in Bethlehem, he penned the words of a poem, then gave them to Lewis Redner, the church’s Sunday School Superintendent and church organist. He asked Redner to write a simple melody that the children could easily learn and sing. Redner struggled to compose just the right melody, but inspiration arrived just in the nick of time. He was awakened in the middle of the night and completed the melody without delay, insisting the tune was a gift from heaven. So, for the Christmas service at Holy Trinity Church in 1868, the children sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” now hailed as one of our finest Christmas Carols. But Brooks passed away before the carol gained world-wide notoriety. Little did he know that one day his poem’s images would capture the imaginations of millions.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” Such a tiny, insignificant town was chosen to be the birthplace of the Savior. Not known as a house of gold, but a rather ordinary “house of bread.” What happened in Bethlehem should be a reminder to all who feel small and insignificant… when the Savior takes up residence in your heart, your very existence can change the world around you. Remember that as you sing the carol this Christmas. The tranquil images of the first two phrases of the first stanza bring us peace, but the last two give us hope. Peace and hope; born of a Savior and captured by simple words accompanied by a humble, simple melody. What a beautiful gift to give the world.

Today’s Reading: Micah 5:2-4 NLT

11 Comments

  1. Darla Beller

    Sweet! Jesus’ humble beginning that characterized his entire life is our example. Our truest identity as believers is in Him and He is the one who exalts us. Jesus may have appeared to a simple carpenter from a tiny little town, but he knew who he really was. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! With Jesus, my example, I may appear to be ordinary, but I am made in the image of God, powerful and purposeful! But, that is not of what I boast. I boast in my redemption! And my life I give to be used up for him, his purposes, and his glory! Thank you for this sweet message, Mickey!

    Reply
  2. Beth Walker

    I found the share button and have successfully sent it to someone unsure of their salvation
    Thank you for making that available

    Reply
  3. Joy Newberry

    “When the Savior takes up residence in your heart, your very existence can change the world around you”

    Lord, as we stay in step with the Holy Spirit, may we make a difference that honors You wherever our journey takes us!

    Thank You Mickey!
    Christmas and New Year Blessings!

    Reply
  4. Willie Jackson

    Well done, Mickey. Thanks for sharing. God Bless.

    Reply
  5. Keisha

    Just taught a group of girls yesterday afternoon about the place, town, and details of the birth of Christ. Ordinary girls, filled with the spirit, to do extraordinary things!!! Such a good word.

    Reply
  6. Holly Tanner

    Thank You for the beautiful words of wisdom and historical lesson! God Bless

    Reply
  7. Rhonda Moore

    Mickey,
    Thank you for sharing and making this beautiful song come alive!

    Reply
  8. Beth woessner

    Hi Mickey,
    Just a quick note of thanks! I so love our church’s advent devotionals written by a variety of staff authors. The personalization of that helps me connect not only to the story of advent with the coming of Christ the baby but also to each author. I get to know them a bit more through these daily devotions.

    This devotion awakens me yet again to the power of music. You sharing the personal stories behind the music takes me from “rote” singing the song to real appreciation for the words and melody. The so often sung song, comes alive again by knowing how it was birthed. Thank you for your passion for music, story telling, history and Christ. I have learned a lot about music, why and how it was written because of your frequent teachings over the years. Thank you!

    I also want to express the similar connection of music and story with art and story. The same kinds of history behind the art, helps that painting have more depth, more appreciation and connection for the viewers.
    Spectra does such a beautiful service to our artists and audience on our “show and tell” evenings when the artist shares their story of the how and why behind their created art. It is a human, relational and creative connection that I am grateful to experience.

    Just feeling extra moved this morning and wanted to share and say how much I appreciate you and our church!

    Reply
  9. Robyn Yates

    Love this.

    Reply
  10. Anita Royko

    Thanks for sharing the origin story of one of my favorite Christmas songs!

    Reply
  11. Brad

    Mickey how do you know the story behind every song?! My family and I always love when you give context to songs. There’s way to many songs we don’t actually understand. Keep em’ coming! That was so rad.

    Reply

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NWA Christmas