Christmas Carol Messages: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
What was so special about Bethlehem? Of all the towns in ancient Israel, why did God the Father choose Bethlehem as the birthplace of His Son?
When we sing of the little town of Bethlehem, we’re often reminded of the prophecy written hundreds of years before Jesus’s birth in Micah 5:2: “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.”
But why Bethlehem? For that answer, we begin with the book of Genesis. In Genesis 49:8-10 we have the first clue as to where the Messiah would be born. Jacob prophesied over his son Judah and declared “The scepter will not depart from Judah.” An eternal kingdom descended from the tribe of Judah.
The next clue is found in Joshua 15, where we learn the boundaries of Judah’s inheritance included the area around the city of Jerusalem. And in New Testament times Bethlehem was located approximately six miles south of Jerusalem.
Next, our search for clues brings us to King David. In 2 Samuel 7:16, we find the prophecy God gave Nathan to speak to King David: “Your throne shall be established forever.” Another reference to an eternal kingdom. David was a descendant of the tribe of Judah. Want to guess where David was born? Yup, Bethlehem! And continuing the kingly line of Judah, Jesus descended from David (Mt. 1:2-6).
Still, we have a geographical challenge by the time of Jesus. The betrothed couple, Joseph and Mary, lived more than 70 miles north of Bethlehem. So what reason would Joseph have to travel that distance for Mary to deliver her baby so far from home?
In His sovereignty, God used a pagan king, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, to declare a census (Luke 2:1-6). God arranged for Joseph to be required to travel from Galilee to Bethlehem—a trip of 70-90 miles, depending on the route they traveled on foot. And finally, Matthew 2:10 tells us Jesus was indeed born in the town of Bethlehem according to the sovereign plan of God.
Even the name of the town, Bethlehem, is significant. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread.” And after miraculously multiplying bread for a crowd of more than 5000 people, what did Jesus say about Himself? “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).
With this background, here are the lyrics of
“O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
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.
For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the Holy birth.
And praises sing to God the King and peace to men on earth.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still, the dear Christ enters in.
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!
Let’s take a closer look at several of the lines:
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light . . .”
- Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
“And praises sing to God the King and peace to men on earth . . .”
- Isaiah 9:6 tells us the child born will be called the “Prince of Peace.”
“Where meek souls will receive Him, still, the dear Christ enters in . . .”
- Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
“Cast out our sin and enter in . . .”
- An angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
“O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!:”
- Isaiah also prophesied, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
So as we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” let’s remember the rich biblical truths contained in this classic Christmas carol!