Malagasy: Ry Betlehema kely o!
Norwegian: O Betlehem, du vesle by
Text: Phillips Brooks (1835-1893). Tune: Lewis H. Redner (1831-1908)
1. 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
2. For Christ is born of Mary, And gathered all above, While mortals sleep, the angels keep Their watch of wond’ring love. O morning stars, together Proclaim the holy birth! And praises sing—let “Glory!” ring With peace to all on earth!
3. How silently, how silently, The wondrous gift is giv’n! So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of the heav’ns. No ear may hear his coming, But in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him still The dear Christ enters in.
4 .O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray, Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today! We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
MEDITATION This beloved carol, addressed to the little town of Bethlehem and then Jesus, is a different kind of carol. It is quiet and reflective--as was the night on the hills of Bethlehem before the angels descended to announce to the shepherds the birth of Jesus and angelic choirs that shook the earth.
We can tell from the language of the hymn that it is written by someone who has stood outside of the city imagining what it must have been like that first Christmas. The writer, Phillips Brooks, rector at the Church of the Advent in Philadelphia and then Trinity Church in Boston, (later Bishop) had traveled to the holy Land in the winter of 1866. It was after a turbulent time in American history—the Civil War was over, Lincoln had been assassinated, the troubles with the Johnson administration—were still roiling the country. Brooks arrived in Bethlehem on Christmas 1866 and saw the stillness and quiet of the place and imagined himself back in time.
Unlike the joyful and grand music of Christmas, so filled with excitement and energy, this strikes a meditative mood that many may need in such a time. Christmas can be depressing for some. People who are lonely or down see all the excitement around them and wonder why it isn’t happening to them. They may remember good or bad Christmases that make them even more depressed. As anyone who has been slightly depressed or unhappy knows, nothing makes one more depressed or sad, maybe even mad, than being told to cheer up.
Brooks notices that in his first stanza: "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." Bethlehem was not a place of unmixed joy. Imagine Mary having to give birth in a stable, how fearful and uncomfortable she must have been. What might Joseph have been thinking? Here he was with a young wife, and a newborn that he has to provide for.
Their fears may have outweighed their hopes on that night. As our fears may do on this Christmas. When will the pandemic end? When will life return to normal, if it ever will? How will my finances hold? How will I manage my fears for the future? Will I get the virus, etc.
The quietness of the hymn and its prayer may be a place for us to begin. Quietly and calmly to pray in the words of the hymn for the blessings of the heavens to come to us and be born in us. Start there. Joy will come in its own time as the truth of the carol dawns in your hearts. Immanuel!
HYMN INFO Brooks wrote this for the students in his Sunday school in 1868 after his visit to Bethlehem. He showed the text to Redner, the organist in his parish. Redner was a real estate agent in Philadelphia and organist at the Church of the Advent who served with Brooks. He was given this text the night before it was to be sung and came up with the tune in time. He is something of a one hit wonder. He wrote no other tune. Redner was an active layman in the city working for the homeless helping provide rooms and a soup kitchen. The hymn was first published in 1893 in the Church Porch.
Another tune, Forest Green, is also popular, especially in Great Britain.
The Gaither community, jazzy https://youtu.be/CwfkGj51S2c
Kings College Choir with Forest Green https://youtu.be/LRuXdOb6TrA
THE FRIENDLY BEASTS
Although there is no mention of animals in the stable where Jesus was born, we can assume there were the normal set of farm animals there. The artists who painted the scene had read Isaiah 1:3 so they almost always include an ox and ass, looking into the crib with a knowing smile. Isaiah says that they are the ones who will know who this baby is. This is thought to be a 12th century carol from France translated into English in the 1920s for a Christmas pageant. Enjoy!
1. Jesus our brother, strong and good, Was humbly born in a stable rude, And the friendly beasts around Him stood, Jesus our brother, strong and good.
2. I, said the donkey all shaggy and brown, I carried His mother up hill and down I carried her safely to Bethlehem town; I, said the donkey shaggy and brown.
3. I, said the cow all white and red, I gave Him my manger for His bed, I gave Him my hay to pillow His head; I, said the cow all white and red.
4. I, said the sheep with curly horn, I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm, He wore my coat on Christmas morn; I, said the sheep with curly horn.
5. I, said the dove, from the rafters high, Cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry. We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I; I, said the dove, from the rafters high.
6. And every beast, by some good spell, In the stable dark was glad to tell Of the gift He gave Immanuel; The gift He gave Immanuel.
National Lutheran Choir
Brian Mitchel Stokes with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir/a bit corny, but show this to your grandchildren https://youtu.be/4o1_h7qWThg