Dear Members and Friends of The Vine Fellowship Church:
As many of you know, the Christmas Eve service is my favorite service of the year. There is just something about the decorations, the setting, the mood, the holiest of nights that makes it so special, so holy, as we gather to celebrate the coming of our Savior. As a youngster, growing up in my home church in Bellevue, PA, Pastor Horst always concluded the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service with the reading of Phillips Brooks poem, Christmas Everywhere. But did you know or remember who wrote the famous carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? It was none other than Phillips Brooks in 1868 while he was serving his second pastorate, as rector of Philadelphia’s Church of the Holy Trinity.
Here is how the famous carol came to be. In 1865, he was touring the Holy Land when, on Christmas Eve, he reportedly went to the place where, according to tradition, Jesus was born. The Church of the Nativity, in Manger Square, has occupied that space since 346 A. D. In 1998, I had the wonderful privilege to visit the Holy Land and see the same sight. But back to Brooks…. While he was there, Brooks attended a six-hour service that lasted from 10 p.m. Christmas Eve until 3 a.m. (And I start worrying when we go over a few minutes on a Sunday.) “The music and the scenes so impressed him, that a new carol was faintly formed in his mind.” (Wayne Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Advent Hymnal, Md. Review and Herald Pub. Assn. 1988; 188,189)
Rev. Brooks, however, did not put the carol on paper until three years later when he wrote the carol for the children of his Sunday School in Philadelphia. That is when he gave his poem to Lewis Henry Redner, the organist of Holy Trinity, who had earlier asked Rev. Brooks to write a text and he would write the tune.
Mr. Redner retired that Christmas Eve, 1868, but awoke several hours later with the tune (“St. Louis”) of the carol ringing in his ears. Mr. Redner went to work and quickly wrote down a tune, fleshing out the harmony when he arose in the morning. The carol was sung a few days later on December 27th in the Sunday school. It was published in 1874 and from then on, it marched its way into the minds and hearts of Christians everywhere. (Ibid.) It was said that Rev. Brooks not only wrote the little town of Bethlehem but he personally knew the Man and the Miracle of Bethlehem. So, when you sing this beautiful carol this Christmas season, may it take on new meaning as you have a little history as to how it came to being.
May God bless you and yours this Christmas season,