Let Heaven and Nature Sing: O Little Town of Bethlehem



As pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia during the Civil War, Philips Brooks was burned out. His congregation decimated by death, grief and discouragement had for five long years drained the vitality of his people and his own heart. In May of 1865 he preached the words of hope at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, but he was exhausted and felt increasingly that he did not have anything left to give to his people. So he took a much needed sabbatical and traveled to the Holy Land.

On Christmas Eve, he traveled from the busyness of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. There he was overwhelmed with the profound irony of the King of Glory entering the world in a small, insignificant town.  Unnoticed in silence, Jesus was coming to bring the remedy the world so desperately needed. He, God with us, would be the means to true peace. The experience was so overpowering that Brooks said it would forever be “singing in my soul.”

He returned to ministry strengthened and within a year the church was overflowing and 1,000 children attended his Sunday school each week. Few heard his rejuvenated preaching but countless people have been affected by O Little Town of Bethlehem which he penned in 1868 for his Sunday school children.

Brooks captured the amazing message that we will study this week from Micah 5 that God’s solution to our decimated world and broken individual lives comes from a quiet, unexpected place but is the real hope for us. The One who comes in humility and in unsuspected ways into our lives is the One who brings peace – who rather is peace.

It is not the teaching of Jesus that brings peace, nor the church he established. It is not the building of a culture based on Jesus’ ideology that brings peace, but it is Jesus Himself who is peace. It is in our connection to Him and through His work alone that we will experience peace. So Phillips calls us to prayer in the last stanza of his hymn that the Holy Child of Bethlehem would descend upon us, come to us, and abide with us – that He would enter in and be born in us today.

In whatever dark, discouraged place we find ourselves today, let us look to the Prince of Peace, who alone makes us whole again and through whom all life will be restored.  As we prepare for worshipping Jesus this Lord’s Day, reflect on the passage from Micah to see how clearly the remedy needed comes from God alone and through His intervention. Together, let us long for Him who is our peace.

Our weekly worship guide can be found here.

MICAH 1:1-5

Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.