The Christmas Carol Written From Personal Experience

Pastor Phillips Brooks was a staunch abolitionist, which is probably why he was asked to speak at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln. However, he is most remembered for writing the lyrics to the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Shortly after the American Civil War, Brooks took a sabbatical to the Holy Land which extended through the Christmas holidays. On Christmas Eve, Brooks traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback so he could attend a service in Constantine’s ancient basilica, built over the potential site of the Nativity. Of his journey, Brooks reported: “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.”

It was here, in the fields outside Bethlehem that Brooks first conceived of the phrase: “O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, a silent star goes by.” Several years later, Brooks finally completed the song and asked Lewis Redner, his organist, to write the music. The song was first performed by the children’s choir of their church. It wasn’t long before the song was included in hymnals worldwide.

Even though Phillips Brooks and his wife never had children of their own, they had a great love for children. Later in life, they met and ministered to young Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf. Brooks explained the gospel of Jesus to Keller for the first time. Keller, through her teacher and translator Anne Sullivan, said, “I’ve always known there was a God, but until now I’ve never known His name.”

Even though the third verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem was written long before Helen Keller met Phillips Brooks, it shares what the joy of salvation might have felt like to her:

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in. 

Click here to hear O Little Town of Bethlehem performed by Chris Tomlin.

*Image courtesy of Travis on Unsplash

The Shepherds and the Savior – Interactive Christmas Sermon for Children

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(The following is an interactive children’s sermon for the Christmas season)

This year, I’m going to need some help in telling my Christmas story. Can I count on you all to help? Great…let’s practice first. When I say these words, I want you to follow my instructions. And every time you hear me say them in my story, you go ahead and respond…

SHEPHERD/S – Raise your hand and say (that’s me!)

ANGEL/S – Shake both hands back and forth over your head and say (Praise God!)

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

GOOD NEWS – Make a fist and pump it shouting (Hooray!)

Let’s practice one more time…

SHEPHERD/S – Raise your hand and say (that’s me!)

ANGEL/S – Shake both hands back and forth over your head and say (Praise God!)

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

GOOD NEWS – Make a fist and pump it shouting (Hooray!)

Ok – you think you have it?  Let’s begin:

I want to tell you a story – and YOU have a very important part to play.  Listen now as I share.

Many, many years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, there were some SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) guarding their SHEEP (Baaaah) at night in the field. 

It was like any other night. The sky was clear and full of stars. The SHEEP (Baaaaah) were quietly resting and the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) were quietly talking.

When suddenly, out of nowhere, right in front of the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) came an ANGEL (Praise God!)

“Ooooooooo!” said the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) looking so frightened!

“Don’t be afraid” said the ANGEL (Praise God!) I’m here with GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) for you; 

“GOOD NEWS (Hooray) which will make everyone very happy!”

“I’ve come to tell you that a Savior has been born. His name is Jesus. You’ll know who he is because you’ll find him wrapped up in blankets, lying in a manger!” said the ANGEL (Praise God!)

“The Savior has been born!” said the SHEPHERDS! (that’s me!) That was very GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) The whole world had been waiting for the Savior to be born!

And with that the whole sky was filled with ANGELS (Praise God!) They sang “Praise God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God!”

Then it was quiet again, and all that was left in the field were the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) and the SHEEP (Baaaaah).

“Let’s go and see if we can find this Savior named Jesus!’ the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) said to each other.

They hurried off, leaving their SHEEP (Baaaaah) who were now fast asleep.

The SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) found Mary and Joseph in the manger, just like the ANGEL (Praise God) had said. With them, lying in the manger, just like the ANGEL (Praise God!) said, was Jesus.  

Mary and Joseph were hardly expecting any visitors that night; they certainly weren’t expecting to see any SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) come to their stable.

But the SHEPHERDS (that’s me) knew they had to tell someone! They just couldn’t go back to their SHEEP (Baaaah). They couldn’t keep GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) like this to themselves…they had to tell EVERYONE!

This kind of GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) was too special to keep quiet about – the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) had to go and tell others. So off they went to Bethlehem, telling everyone about the birth of Jesus.  That was great!!! Thank you so much for helping me tell the Christmas Story – (give yourself a hand!)

But remember, when I told you that you had an important part to play in my story. The important part doesn’t stop here. It’s just beginning.  That first Christmas might have been over 2,000 years ago, but the GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) is something we still need to tell others about today, like the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) did that first Christmas.

That’s right – all of us have a part to play…we all need to tell others about our Savior, Jesus. 

If you would be willing to tell others about Jesus, like the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) did, raise your hand and say (“That’s me!).

Awesome! I knew I could count on you!

Merry Christmas.

(Photo courtesy of Gareth Harper of Unsplash)

Nativity Maturity

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A week or two ago, my wife invited a mom and her preschool daughter to our home, to decorate for the upcoming holiday and for Christmas cookies. She asked the young girl if she would place the Nativity scene pieces in a small stable that was sitting on an end table near the sofa. 

The girl looked carefully at the figures and at the stable, then began by placing the Baby Jesus figure, lying in a manger, in the center of the stable. Then, she placed Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, and finally, the angel.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Most adults would do the same thing.

Except… 

The little girl placed all of the figures facing inside the inside center of the stable instead of facing outward.

When I saw the Nativity scene, I thought, “What is this? No one can see the characters because they’re all looking at Jesus.”

Then, I realized that the little girl had it right. Jesus is the center of the story. It’s all about Him. Why would anyone look at anything or anyone else?

Lord, this year, help us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Help us make the Christmas season all about Him. 

New Verses to Away In A Manger

photo- courtesy of Unsplash - photo by Greg Rakozy

A few years ago, as Christmas approached, I was going through some personal struggles and even considered leaving the ministry. However, as I sat to review the worship music for the beginning of the Christmas season, I couldn’t stop singing the lyrics to Away In A Manger, one of my favorite Christmas carols. I love the simplicity of the song and am always impressed by the childlike faith it evokes.

Here are those first three stanzas:

Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.          The Stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.                   I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky, and stay by my cradle til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray.            Bless all the dear children, in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

However, as I sang, I felt the song wasn’t complete, so on that day, I wrote two extra stanzas. Doing so help restore my faith and hope in the Lord. I pray they minister to you as you read them below.

No longer a baby, He grew to a man, sent to us from heaven to fulfill God’s plan.                 He died on a cross to atone for our sin, then rose from the dead to be alive again.

This precious Lord Jesus is all that we need, if we make him our Savior and our Lord indeed,                                                                                                                                                  Oh please, wondrous Jesus, be with us today. Fill us with your spirit, we now humbly pray.

Merry Christmas.

*photo courtesy of Unsplash