December 19, 2020 College Heights Baptist Church

Listen to the Words - Song Five

Listen to the Words - Song Five

I’ll try to abbreviate this one for those who suffer from literary fatigue. Much of what can be said about most Christmas songs has already been covered to some extent in past blog posts so I’ll refer to those posts when appropriate. Today we turn our attention to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to reflect on the theological gleanings from that beloved hymn.

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

Why Bethlehem? As most Christians know, Bethlehem was the place God had predicted that the Messiah would be born. The Old Testament records this prophecy in the book of Micah where it reads

“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” Micah 5:2 (ESV). 

The bigger question here is truly a theological one. Does God simply foresee this information in the future and reveal it to Micah’s audience, or is God describing something that He is going to do? And is this true for all prophecy? The Bible teaches us that God is not only the creator of the heavens and earth (Gen 1:1) but that He also sustains them (Col 1:17) and works history out according to His plan (Rom 8:28, Eph 1:11).

So Jesus was not born in Bethlehem out of mere circumstance, and God was not simply looking into the future and describing what was going to happen to Micah. Rather, God was telling Micah what He was going to bring about. And why Bethlehem? Because it fits the grand narrative of God’s redemptive plan. Bethlehem already has a theological history that is important to the Biblical storyline. Bethlehem is where the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz takes place from whom we get King David. Bethlehem is King David’s hometown and from this town (which means house of bread) comes the royal designer and initiator of God’s temple, the place where God would dwell among the Israelites. Though God did not allow David to build the temple himself (his son Solomon did that) God did promise that He would build David’s house and that there would always be someone on the throne from his descendants. Jesus fulfills this Davidic promise, or covenant, and so His birth in Bethlehem reflect this theological history.

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

We’ve covered angels thoroughly in the last blog post. We’ve discussed the sinful nature and the mortality of men. We’ve talked about the phrase “Peace on earth and goodwill to men” as well. So here I will simply look at the phrase “morning stars.” It is from Job 38:7 that this reference to angels is derived. The angels are said to have rejoiced at the wonder and amazement of God’s creative power in the beginning of time. The same beings who were being sent as messengers to proclaim the good news of Christ’s birth, are the same ones who saw Him make everything so long ago. No wonder 1 Peter 1:12 describes this Gospel as something into which “angels long to look.”

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

This verse reminds us that the salvation of God did not come with flash and worldly glory but through humble and subtle avenues (“How silently,” and “no ear may hear His coming”). Jesus leaves heaven and enters into the world which He is devoted to saving, not as a powerful agent of heaven, but as a baby. He is from Nazareth, a place of no renown. He grows up in a carpenter’s family. He eats with sinners, washes His disciple’s feet, and is crucified between thieves. And yet He starts a movement that transforms the lives of those who embrace His teaching, and it is a movement that has withstood vicious attacks and endless barriers. It is a movement that has spread to almost every tribe, nation, and tongue…and is still on the move today! Christ still enters into the hearts of those who humbly and meekly admit their sin and confess their savior is Lord Jesus.

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel