O Little Town…

I have a love for small communities since I grew up in one. I’ve been in those villages where the “Welcome To…” and “Thank You for Coming…” signs are almost fastened to the same posts. Some places are so ‘insignificant’ they barely make it on a decent road map.

The little town of Bethlem had its history. Naomi and Ruth had returned to this community after years in Moab and Ruth gleaned in the harvest fields just outside of town. Bethlehem was King David’s home community with great water which he longed for during a difficult time in his life. Joseph and Mary made their way to this town because of their genealogical linkage to David.

Small towns are typically passed by when it comes to announcements. Now, some of us who trace our roots to Northern Ontario remember Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark kicking off his election campaign in Earlton since he had previously committed to come there before the election was called. But normally cities are where the ‘important’ people hang out.

The wise men (magi) from the East showed up in the city of Jerusalem. Why wouldn’t the newborn king be found in the palace in the capital city? Though they had followed the star, perhaps human logic turned their gaze downward from the heavens to city of the great king. 

But Bethlehem, the little community in Judea, had a purposeful place in God’s plan. God doesn’t assess people and places the way we do. Location, location, location is no deterrent to significance, significance, significance! 

“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.”   (Micah 5:2)

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was an American Episcopal minister and author, who served in Boston, Massachusetts and is best known for the lyrics of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’

He prepared for college at the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard at the age of 20. He worked briefly as a school teacher at Boston Latin School, but was fired.  Feeling that he had failed miserably, he wrote, “I do not know what will become of me and I do not care much…  I wish I were fifteen years old again. I believe I might become a stunning man: but somehow or other I do not seem in the way to come to much now.” 

In 1856 he began to study for ordination in the Episcopal Church in the Virginia Theological Seminary located in Alexandria, VA.  He graduated in 1859 and began his career as rector of the Church of the Advent, Philadelphia. 

He wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868 recalling his visit there in 1865. Neither Brooks nor the organist ever thought the carol or the musical accompaniment would last beyond Christmas of that year.  I guess he was wrong!

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