1. Lesson One of the Book of Daniel, Introduction to the Book of Daniel

History of Hymns: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.


Many hymns that were written originally for children have captured the imagination of everyone. Such is the case with “O little town of Bethlehem.” 

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) wrote this beloved Christmas hymn for the Sunday school children at his Philadelphia parish, Holy Trinity Church, following a pilgrimage to Bethlehem in 1865, according to British hymnologist J. R. Watson. The hymn was printed on an informal leaflet in December 1868 and then appeared in The Sunday School Hymnal in 1871. 

In the United States, the hymn is generally sung to its original tune, ST. LOUIS by Louis H. Redner (1831-1908), a wealthy real estate broker who served as a church organist for his avocation. UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young notes that Redner “increased Sunday school attendance at Holy Trinity Episcopal, where Phillips Brooks was rector, from thirty-six to over one thousand during his nineteen years as superintendent.” 

According to the story, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. 

“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. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks,’ or leading them home to fold.” 

Brooks participated in the Christmas Eve service, writes hymnologist Albert Bailey, “conducted in . . . Constantine’s ancient basilica (326 A.D.) built over the traditional site of the Nativity, a cave. The service lasted from 10 P.M. to 3 A.M.!” This sequence of events provided the backdrop for Brooks’ children’s hymn. 

Redner, the writer of the original tune, St. Louis, noted that the “simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure almost on the Eve of Christmas. It was after midnight that a little angel whispered the strain in my ears and I roused myself and jotted it down as you have it.” 

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) paired this text with the British folk tune FOREST GREEN for The English Hymnal (1906), a marriage that Australian hymnologist Wesley Milgate called “one of the many happy inspirations of the music editor, Vaughan Williams.” This tune is the dominant in Great Britain, and the American tune ST. LOUIS has been derided by British hymnologist Erik Routley as “broken-backed and paralytic.” Such is the difference in musical tastes of two countries an ocean apart. 

Regardless of the feelings about the tune, hymnologists on both sides of the Atlantic agree on the poignancy of the text. Dr. Watson sums it up well: “Not only does the hymn beautifully describe the little town asleep in the December night; it also gracefully modulates from a description of Christmas into an examination of the meaning of Christmas: first in its encouragement of charity and faith, and then into the coming of Christ into the human heart.”

St. Louis Version (Original Version) Page 82 in our Hymnal



Forest Green Version: British Version



2. History of Hymns: Silent Night! Holy Night! Page 84 in our Hymnal

Silent night! holy night! 

All is calm, all is bright,

'Round yon virgin mother and Child!

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.


In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg where they were to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.
     Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas' church organ wasn't working and would not be repaired before Christmas. (Note: some versions of the story point to mice as the problem; others say rust was the culprit) Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas presentation of the events in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.
     From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas-card like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.
     Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas Eve service. The one problem was that he didn't have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ.
     On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar.
     Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr's Christmas poem. Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of "Silent Night" back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by "Silent Night," both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire.

     The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed "Silent Night" for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas Eve.
     Twenty years after "Silent Night" was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside New York City's Trinity Church.
     In 1863, nearly fifty years after being first sung in German, "Silent Night" was translated into English. Eight years later, that English version made its way into print in Charles Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. Today the words of "Silent Night" are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.


Sung in German: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6v0Xr6ewUU


Christmas Sunday School Message for 25 December 2016




I Cor 1:27, But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29That no flesh should glory in his presence.


We are told in the Christmas story as presented by Luke that certain shepherds abiding in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night were chosen to bear witness to the birth of God’s son, our Lord Jesus. 


God has all right and authority to choose any in the world but he chose humble shepherds who were responsible for caring for God’s creatures, many of whom were being prepared for sacrifice in the temple.


In the culture of the day shepherds would be called the foolish, they would be called the weak, they would have been called the despised things but they were those whom God chose to bear witness to the birth of his only son, Jesus Christ. 

These men who were chosen, because they were shepherds, most likely would be looked down upon by their countrymen.   

Remember, we were told in the Old Testament that Shepherds were “loathsome” to the Egyptians and they were also poorly thought of by their own brethren.  

Shepherds generally had a poor reputation as a class of people, but it seems that the shepherds that God chose to bear witness were godly men, acquainted with prophesy, men who were looking for the coming of Israel’s Messiah.  

We know that all the others who were directly informed of the birth of Messiah in Matthew and Luke were described as godly people, and so it would seem to be true of these certain shepherds as well.  

After all, news of His coming would not be “good news of a great joy” (v. 10) unless they were seeking Him.  

Now following is an excerpt from A sermon by Martin Luther, from his Wartburg Church Postil, 1521-1522 speaking of shepherds entitled:

The Story of the Birth of Jesus; and the Angels' Song

“Let us now see who are to be the preachers and who the learners. The preachers are to be angels, that is, God's messengers, who are to lead a heavenly life, are to be constantly engaged with God's Word that they under no circumstances preach the doctrine of men.

56. The learners are shepherds, poor people out in the fields. Here Jesus does what he says, Math. 11, 5, "And the poor have good tidings preached to them", and Math. 5, 8, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for their's is the kingdom of heaven". Here are no learned, no rich, no mighty ones, for such people do not as a rule accept the Gospel. The Gospel is a heavenly treasure, which will not tolerate any other treasure, and will not agree with any earthly guest in the heart. Therefore whoever loves the one must let go the other, as Christ says, Math. 6, 24: "You cannot serve God and mammon."

This is shown by the shepherds in that they were in the field, under the canopy of heaven, and not in houses, showing that they do not hold fast and cling to temporal things; and besides they are in the fields by night, despised by and unknown to the world which sleeps in the night, and by day delights so to walk that it may be noticed; but the poor shepherds go about their work at night. They represent all the lowly who live on earth, often despised and unnoticed but dwell only under the protection of heaven; they eagerly desire the Gospel.”

To these humble shepherds the angel of God appeared in a blaze of glory, which caused them to be greatly frightened.  

But the angel assured them that he brought them good news, and told them of the birth of the Messiah. 

And a sign was given that they would find the child wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a cattle feeding trough.  

This sign was for the purpose of identification for there were no doubt a number of babies in Bethlehem at this time so this sign was a way to distinguish this special baby from all of the others.  

No other child would be found in such a manner and so identified. 

And so the two things that most show our Lord’s poverty, His “swaddling clothes” and His “cattle feeding trough bed,” prove to be the very things which set this child apart from all others, and which identify Him to the shepherds.   

But they do more than this; they also identify Messiah with the shepherds.  

The Lord seemingly had no roof over His head, no house to dwell in.  

Neither did the shepherds, who, we are told, slept under the stars, as they cared for their flocks (v. 8).  

Jesus was poor and of no reputation, as they were.  

And Jesus, who was to be both the sacrificial “Lamb of God” and the “Good Shepherd”, identified with these shepherds by being found in a manger amongst the animals.  

This presents to us a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ’s humble beginnings and his identification with men, men who were rejected and despised of other men.   

So without wasting a moment the shepherds went to Bethlehem, where they “found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby.  

It is important to remember that the angel announced the birth and the location of the Messiah not only so that the shepherds could witness this historic event, and to worship their King, but also so that they could tell others, so that they could be witnesses of the Savior’s birth. 

Mary and Joseph must have been greatly surprised by the shepherds’ arrival and by the report they shared of the announcement by the angel.  

God meant that the arrival of the shepherds again confirmed to Mary and Joseph that this baby was indeed the Christ and the circumstances in which they found themselves, were simply in fulfillment of God’s plan.  

The testimony of the shepherds also had a great impact on the people in that area who were looking for God’s Messiah.  

Luke informs us that the shepherds “found their way” to Mary, Joseph, and the child, and as they found their way, they no doubt made known to many people, the great events in which they took part. 

The shepherds were given a sign as to what to look for.   

They were given clues which would lead them to the baby. 

The “clues” they were given were (1) that there was a newly born baby; (2) that the baby was a boy; and (3) that he was to be found laying in a cattle feeding trough, wrapped in strips of cloth.  

I suppose that the shepherds searched throughout the town to find this baby and maybe even knocked on doors seeking a child meeting these descriptions. 

Perhaps much of Bethlehem was awakened and entered in the search before the baby was found.  

All of this served to make the news of the Christ-child’s birth known.  

Luke therefore tells us that: And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (v. 18).  

These shepherds, who belonged to a class of society banned from bearing testimony in the courtroom, were the ones God chose to bear witness to the birth of His Son.  

Why? Because, I suppose, God has always chosen the “weak and foolish” things of this world to confound the wisdom of the wise. 

God is not in the business of exalting the messenger or having an exalted messenger but he is interested in exalting the message of the Word of God.  

The shepherds are not important, only Christ Jesus is important. 

Jesus came to bring salvation and deliverance to the poor, the oppressed, and the despised of this world, and God chose to announce it by means of the despised and the rejected. 


29That no flesh should glory in his presence.