History of Hymns: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we
see thee lie;
Many hymns that were written originally for children have captured the
imagination of everyone. Such is the case with “O little town of Bethlehem.”
According to the story, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and
Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
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.
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.
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.