As we find and pray our way through this school shooting in Connecticut, it’s helpful to hold tight to traditions and, yes, to remember the words of Philip Brooks:
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 to-night.
At the time he wrote those words, Bishop Brooks was the rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia. He had visited Bethlehem during Christmas of 1865. Gazing upon the very hills that framed the birth of Jesus, the eloquent preacher was inspired. Here is how he described the scene:
After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem. It was only about two hours when we came to the town, situated on an eastern ridge of a range of hills, surrounded by its terraced gardens. It is a good-looking town, better built than any other we have seen in Palestine. ... 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 (all the Holy Places are caves here), in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds. The story is absurd, but 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.
Bishop Brooks pondered the experience for several years and in 1868 put his thoughts into what would eventually become a beloved carol of Christmas, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
Indeed, the streets of this broken world are dark but in our desperation we turn to the light – “the everlasting Light” and there we find healing and hope for the world.
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