Psalm 59:16 – But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. (NIV)
Judges 5:3 – Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song. (NIV 2011)
Recently, I read the story behind a popular Christmas carol, the song we all know and love, called "O little town of Bethlehem". The author, Phillips Brooks, lived during the civil war, a dark and tragic period in American history. Phillips, an Episcopalian clergyman at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, stood firm in his support of the Union to end the evils of slavery. Yet, as the battle raged on, the pastor began to experience extreme burnout and fatigue. Meanwhile, the congregation was in mourning. They were looking to their pastor for comfort, but the church, like the country, was divided. Not everyone was of the same political persuasion.
Subsequently, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Phillips was called upon to deliver the eulogy. Later that year, he travelled to the holy land, seeking a period of respite, a time to restore his soul. Then, on Christmas Eve day in 1865, being overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem, the pastor set out on a borrowed horse, despite warnings of danger, and travelled alone to the quiet Bethlehem countryside.
In a letter addressed to his father, Phillips tells how he rode to the shepherds' field outside of town where the angelic announcement took place, a beautiful view from the hills of Palestine. There, he observed shepherds still keeping watch over their flocks, and that evening, he attended a five-hour service at the Church of the Nativity. Phillips experienced a personal revival. As a result, today, believers from every denomination around the globe are singing these familiar words:
- Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
Reflecting on the circumstances surrounding this beloved Christmas carol, I thought about the dark and tragic world that we live in today, with conflicts, terrorism, political unrest, and divisiveness. Still, as we celebrate the birth of God's Son, we are reminded that Jesus is not only the light of the world, but also the Prince of Peace. Therefore, in times of trouble, the same Spirit that stirred Phillips' heart to write is the One to renew our faith and trust in the One who was born in Bethlehem so many years ago – the One Who was born to set us free from sin and death.
Prayer: Father, we thank You for the blessings of this season, for the music and celebration that honour the birth of Your precious Son. Fill us to overflowing with the gift of Your Spirit, that we may worship and serve You with all of our hearts. This we ask in Jesus' holy name. Amen.