O Little Town of Bethlehem

Read: Ephesians 3:14-21

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (v. 17)

There is a beautiful story behind this popular carol. Phillips Brooks was one of the most famous preachers in 19th-century America. He was pastor of Trinity Church in Boston for many years and later became the Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts. While Brooks was touring the Holy Land in 1865, he visited Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and stood in the shepherds’ field that overlooked the town, where local tradition said the shepherds were “keeping watch over their flocks” on the night Jesus was born. Three years later Brooks recalled that scene in a simple carol he wrote for his Sunday school’s Christmas service. Neither Phillips Brooks nor his church organist, Lewis Redner, who wrote the tune, thought that “O Little Town of Bethlehem” would ever be sung again after that service. But today it is known and loved throughout the world.

The carol breathes a spirit of peace and draws us into the stillness of that Christmas Eve scene. We’re standing in the shepherds’ field with Phillips Brooks, watching Bethlehem under the stars. With him we pray for the “wondrous gift” to be given to us too—that “Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.” It doesn’t necessarily happen dramatically. “How silently, how silently” our receiving Christ by faith can be, as Brooks exclaims. But it’s real nevertheless. No ear may hear his coming, / but in this world of sin, / where meek souls will receive him, still / the dear Christ enters in.

As you pray, silently receive the gift of Jesus.

Listen along: O Little Town of Bethlehem – Gaither Vocal Band, O Little Town of Bethlehem – Chris Tomlin

About the Author

Rev. Dave Bast retired as the President and Broadcast Minister of Words of Hope in January 2017, after 23 years with the ministry. Prior to his ministry and work at Words of Hope, Dave served as a pastor for 18 years in congregations in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several devotional books. A graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, he has also studied at both the Fuller and Calvin seminaries. Dave and his wife, Betty Jo, have four children and four grandchildren. Dave enjoys reading, growing tomatoes, and avidly follows the Detroit Tigers.

This entry is part 10 of 25 in the series Carols and Lessons