Here’s the third in the repeat of my Sunday series during the month of December on the fascinating abolitionist history behind some of our most beloved Christmas hymns. Pro-lifers identify closely with those 150 years ago who fought to free another oppressed class of people. (Also see “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “O Holy Night.”) This week…

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Episcopalian Pastor Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was so outspoken in his opposition to slavery and support of the North he was asked to preach the funeral eulogy of slain President Abraham Lincoln.

“That solemn honor, in tandem with leading the congregation of Philadelphia’s Holy Trinity Church through the bloody years of the Civil War, had taken its toll,” writes author Ace Collins in his book, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. “Worn out and badly needing a spiritual rebirth, Brooks took a sabbatical… to tour the Middle East.”

On Christmas Eve 1865, compelled to escape the crowds, Brooks rode alone by horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and spent several hours during the night in worship, prayer, and contemplation.

Preparing for a Christmas Eve service 3 years later, Brooks recalled his experience and wrote the poem we now know as “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” His church organist, Lewis Redner, set it to music.

The Phillips Brooks House still stands at Harvard University, dedicated to the Harvard grad in 1900.

Verse 4…

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where Misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching,
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

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