“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

vod o little town of bethlehemaaThe backdrop of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” begins actually in Bethlehem in Israel. A young preacher, Phillips Brooks traveled to Europe and Israel in 1865. It was there on a Christmas Eve when he was slated to preach in Bethlehem that he saw a cave and some shepherds. Upon reflection of the passage in Luke that he wrote this poem/hymn for his Sunday School children back in Philadelphia. It appeared in the Sunday School Hymnal in 1871. His diary reflects what he saw and experienced:

“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.”  And a second entry: “I remember 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 splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth as I heard them a year before; and I assure you I was glad to shut my ears awhile and listen to the more familiar strains that came wandering to me halfway round the world.”

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