by: Rich Vaughan
Have you ever wondered about the history behind some of our beloved Christmas hymns? Behind almost every Christmas Hymn is a unique history and story. Some will amaze you. Some will touch you. I think all of them will help you see where God was in the words and the melody. For instance, take the song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (In the UM Hymnbook #230), written by one of America’s most outstanding pastors in the mid-1800s, Phillips Brooks.
During a trip to the Holy Land in 1865, Brooks went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and worshiped there. He was deeply moved by the experience and three years later, while pastoring the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, he wanted to have a special carol created for his church children to sing in their Christmas program. Remembering his moment in Bethlehem he wrote the words to this favorite Christmas hymn in ONE night. To add to this God moment for this beautiful hymn, Brooks gave it to his organist, Lewis R. Redner, and asked him to compose an easy melody for the children to sing. HERE IS ANOTHER GOD MOMENT IN THIS HYMN STORY. On the evening just before the program was to be given, Redner awakened suddenly from his sleep with a melody in his head and quickly wrote it down! “O Little Town of Bethlehem” has been a favorite with children and adults ever since. So in effect the words to the hymn were written in one sitting and the melody was composed in one night!
One of the amazing parts of Christmas is that God keeps writing the story of Christmas in different ways. Not just though the powerful words of Matthew and Luke, but through his later disciples like Brooks and Redner. I have been trying to tell you all this season that the Christmas story is a living, breathing, magical, wonderful, powerful event that should speak to us in all sorts of ways. Perhaps in this angry world, in this crazy time, the Lord is calling to us even more clearly to look at and take to heart this story. A story of hope. A story of promise. A story of love. A story that is eternal but also a story that is current. May the song of Christmas be not only on your lips but also in your heart and may you share its words and melody with your family, friends, neighbors and those you meet in your life’s journey. Tomorrow we may look at one more Christmas hymn and the story behind its words and melody. Tomorrow will be my last devotion of the year. I will take a small break and start these devotionals back on Monday, January 4th, 2021!