O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM

O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM

Bethlehem is a pivotal town in the story told throughout Scripture.  Rachael, Jacob’s beloved wife, died and was buried in Bethlehem.  Genesis 35:19.  Bethlehem is mentioned as one of the cities in the inheritance of Zebulun. Joshua 19:15.   In the book of Ruth, we find that Ruth and Naomi returned to the land of Israel and went to the town of Bethlehem where, as Providence would reveal, Boaz lived.  Ruth 1:22, 2:4, 4:11. Notably, Boaz is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in both Matthew and Luke. Matthew 1:5 and Luke 3:22.  David lived and loved the town of Bethlehem. 1 Samuel 17:12, 2 Samuel 23:!5.  While there are numerous other references to Bethlehem in the Old Testament, the most relevant one for this time of year comes from Micah 5:2 where we read: 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” 

This is the verse that is referenced in Matthew 2 as the priests and scribes told Herod that the prophesy was that the King would come from Bethlehem.

Long after the coming of the King as a Babe in the manger at Bethlehem, Dr. Phillips Brooks, the rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Philadelphia, spent a year-long vacation traveling in Europe and the East. In 1865, he wrote home during Christmas week he visited the hills surrounding Bethlehem and it was the sight of the town below that had an impact on him.  He recalled the Scripture describing the events of that Christmas night as he, personally, watched shepherds keeping watch over their flocks or ‘leading them home to fold’.  

The carol was not written until 1868. It was printed in the program for the Christmas Sunday School service at the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1868, and it was sung to the music written for it by Mr. Lewis H. Redner who was the organist at the church.  Mr. Redner asserts that he was awakened from his sleep late in the night hearing an “angel strain” whispering in his ear.  He jotted down the treble of the tune and then filled in the harmony in the morning.  Thus the carol was born.

Dr. Phillips Brooks passed away on January 23, 1893 after a short illness.  

Much more of the story of the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem can be found in Studies of Familiar Hymns, by Louis F. Benson, D.D., published by the Westminster Press in 1903. 

What strikes me as significant in Dr. Brooks’ life is his connection with hymns and carols.  When we think about teaching our children of the Christian faith, I don’t know how many of us consider the hymns, carols and songs that the children sing.  In his Studies of Familiar Hymns, Dr. Benson relates the training that Phillips Brooks received in his family home, referencing a connection with hymns he learned as a child:

And that connection is in the fact that his own mind and heart were stored with hymns, to such an extent and in such a way that they were one of the real influences of his life. 

In one of the letters (regarding the family traditions) we read:

“the father regrets that Phillips could not have been with the family on the last Sunday evening when the boys recited hymns.”

This was a beautiful custom, which called from each one of the children the learning of a new hymn every Sunday, and its recital before the assembled family. In a little book, carefully kept by the father, there was a record of the hymns each child had learned, beginning with William, who had the advantage of age, and had learned the greatest number, followed by Phillips, who came next, and the record tapering down until John is reached, with a comparatively small number at his disposal. Most of them were from the old edition of the Prayer Book, then bound up with a metrical selection of Psalms and a collection of two hundred and twelve hymns. 

When Phillips went to college there were some two hundred that he could repeat. They constituted part of his religious furniture, or the soil whence grew much that cannot now be traced. He never forgot them.  (Emphasis supplied)

Phillips Brooks’ experience is an example of that which we read in Proverbs:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6 ESV

It was said of Phillips:

“The language of sacred hymns learned in childhood and forever ringing in his ears was one of the channels through which he had felt the touch of Christ.”

Beloved, what is the soil which we are nurturing in our children and from which they will feel the touch of Christ? 

Encourage your children to sing of the Lord and of His praises.  Teach hymns and carols to young children so that when they are old, they will not depart from the truths found therein.

Listen now to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as presented by the Canterbury Choristers and Dr. Newell B. Wright.

Father, I pray that we would remember that little sleepy town of Bethlehem as they missed the opportunity of welcoming the Lord of the Universe into their homes.  Lord, I pray that You would open our eyes so that we would see You in our world today, and that we would not ignore those times when You are speaking to us.  Enable us to teach our children of You and Your Love throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

MAINTAIN A GOOD NAME

In the summer of 1976 my parents visited Manitoba, Canada and took a number of pictures of fascinating things and places.  One picture that really tickled my fancy was that of Josiah Flintabbatey Flontain, (Flinty for short) a fictional character for whom the town of Flin Flon was named.  

flintabbatey-flonatin-monument-in-manitoba
The image of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin graces the community in a monument to the town’s founder..

According to an “official” website, the town began with a prospector’s claim and a dime store novel.  Flinty, was the hero of a science fiction novel that was found in the wilderness by gold prospectors in the early 1900s.  When the prospectors found gold in 1914, they remembered the story of Flinty and called their claim Flin Flon. 

flin-flon-manitoba-canada
The community known as Flin Flon in Manitoba, Canada, as seen in 1976.

The name stuck, and Flin Flon became one of Manitoba’s largest cities. See the town’s website for more information on this unique community to our North.  See http://www.cityofflinflon.ca/tourist-bureau-park-campground-museum 

The name of Flin Flon had its genesis in a fictional character who was much beloved by the people in the area and they were willing to be known by his name.  Names are important.  They say something about who we are.  Names identify us and distinguish us from other people.  (Remember when you first learned of someone else who had “your” first name?  Takes some getting used to when you are a young child!) 

While Flinty was a fictional character, another One whose name we follow was not fictional.  Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and resurrected from the grave.  All this is written in the Holy Bible and is fact, not fiction.  He ascended into heaven where He lives to intercede on behalf of those who claim His name in faith and who have received the gift of salvation. Also fact, not fiction.

The Greek word for Christ is Christos meaning “anointed”, and “The Christ” was the anointed one of God, the Messiah, and the Son of God.  It follows from this that a believer in Jesus Christ would be called Christianos or a “follower of Christ”.  And that is exactly what the first believers were called as noted in the book of Acts:

… And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

Acts 11:26 ESV

 

They learned Jesus’ teachings, His way of life, His relationship with God, His desires for them to be witnesses to others, and much more.  Jesus is not physically here right now to teach us, but we are not left to wonder what a His disciple should do.  He expressed what discipleship was on many occasions, but in Matthew it is stated as follows:

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. …”  

Matthew 10:24-25 ESV

We as believers carry Christ’s name.  As Christians, we are to be like Him. But, we cannot be like Him if we don’t learn of Him by studying His Word, by worshiping with other believers, by praying and by listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who indwells us and who is charged with the job of growing us into the likeness of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. 

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Romans 8:29 ESV  

Your name is much more than just the moniker that you use to sign checks or the letters you print on the Welcome name tag at a conference.  When someone says “Look, there is [your name]”, they are not speaking of your signature – they are speaking of you and all the aspects of you that they know.  Your name encompasses your life activities, your behavior, your words, your demeanor, your personality, your character and your witness.

That is why, in Proverbs 22:1, we read:

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

The application to believers in Christ is clear.  Your name should be honorable, your conduct should be gracious and there should be none of the debauchery that is so prevalent in today’s fallen, godless world.  A Christian must never rank the approval of man over the truth of God and His Word.

Your name, your personal choice to honor God and live for Him, may be the witness that will be used by the Holy Spirit to draw people to God and His life-giving hope.

Choose a good name above all else – be a Christian disciple, learner, pupil of our Lord and seek Him all your days.  You will be blessed both now and in eternity.

 

Lord, help me to see You in all things.  Where there is anxiety, let me put my head on Your breast and let me hear Your heart of love reminding me that You are in control even when my world is falling apart.  Where there is fear, let me put my hands in Yours and so I can see the scars from the nails where You sacrificed Your life in payment of my sins.  Holy Spirit, guide my steps and my words so that I can be an effective witness for my Lord and Savior.