O Little Town of Bethlehem

Today we continue our Advent/Christmas series titled “Let’s Sing.” This is our 13th song of the series. For easy reference to the remainder of the series, please see the index, “Let’s Sing” at http://revbroyles.me/2020/12/06/lets-sing/.

It has been said, “The two most important days in your life: The day you were born and the day you discover why.” I’ve been there. I get it. Since I graduated from high school I have been a retail worker, a sailor, a construction lab technician, a hot shot delivery driver, a movie operator, a computer operator, a computer room manager, a computer programmer and a preacher. I have spent the last thirty years (in June) doing that last one. I have come to understand that this is why I was born. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the work in any those other things (some of it, I didn’t enjoy at all). I wasn’t fulfilled. Something was missing.

I’m not exactly sure when I discovered the great “why” of my life. While it may be one of two most important days of my life, I can’t look back and say, “On this date I knew.” I can tell you the first most important date, the day I was born. But, for the second, I just don’t know.

Phillips Brooks, lyricist of one of the great hymns of the Church (to call it a Christmas carol limits it so), “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” had that same kind of discovery, but it wasn’t when he wrote this Christmas carol so many of us love.

Brooks was born December 13, 1835 in Boston. He went to Harvard and after graduating he started teaching school. He quickly became disillusioned when students didn’t seem as motivated as he would have liked. Brooks despair grew. He was never very effective with his students and was soon fired. He saw himself as a complete failure.

He was still searching for his “why.” With no better idea, Brooks enrolled in Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria Virginia. Brooks found his “why” as a Priest in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition.

Upon graduation from Virginia Theological Brooks was assigned as the rector of Trinity Church in Philadelphia. People flocked to hear him. Worship attendance grew as did the membership rolls of the congregation.

Though he was headed for hard times, Brooks grew to be the most popular and most effective preacher of his generation, really the entire 19th century.

Then the Civil War broke out. The war took its toll on Trinity Church in many ways. First, there was no one in the church, or elsewhere for that matter, who was not directly impacted by the war. Almost everyone knew, someone, family or friend who died or was severely wounded and disabled because of the war. There were other ways the war effected people, but this was one of the biggest. As the numbers mounted, people wanted the war to end. It impacted Brooks physically, emotionally and spiritually.

When the war did come to an end, Brooks had seemed to have lost his preaching power. Though he was not Lincoln’s pastor, he was asked to speak at the funeral. He dug deep and came out with words fitting for the occasion.

It wasn’t long before Brooks decided to take a sabbatical. He traveled to the Holy Land. On Christmas Eve, he rode out on a borrowed horse toward Bethlehem. What he saw there, saw of the peaceful little town spoke to him. The trip was powerful to Brooks.

When he returned he still struggled to find the right words to impact his congregation. As the Christmas season of 1868 approached, Brooks sat down to write a new Christmas hymn for the Sunday school at Trinity Church’s children’s Christmas pageant. He wrote the words in short order. Brooks was back.

He carried the quickly written poem to his church organist, Louis H. Redner. Tradition has it that Redner struggled with the music much as Brooks had struggled with the lyrics. On Christmas eve Redner gave up and went to bed. It was while lying in bed the tune came to him. The children sang it for the first time the next day.

From there, as it has been said, the rest is history. They hymn spread across Europe and then to North America. We all know it today as one of the great hymns of both Christmas and Church history.

Phillips Brooks became an Episcopal Bishop in 1891 and assigned to Boston. He died 15 months later.

The two great moments of life, when we are born and when we discover why. It is a great quote. But there are many people who never reach that second great moment. It is sad that someone can go through life and never know or understand why they are here. For many of them it is because they never look. They are to busy trying to find happiness to know that real happiness comes from God who put each of us here for a reason. When we find that reason, when we live out the why of God putting us here, when we respond to God’s call on our lives it is only then we will truly be happy.

Phillips Brooks found his “Why.” I believe I have found mine. Have you found yours? What are you waiting for?

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas,
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the
Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, 
Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your
Favorite Christmas Carols
, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.

Published by drjkbroyles

I love Mike Ashcraft's book, "My One Word." For the past nine years I have participated and encouraged others to participate to in the "My One Word" Challenge. My first word was discipline was my word the first year. Since then my word has been focus, sight, jungle, peace, concentration, serve, genuine and this year is fit. I seek to be fit for my health, my family, my church, my ministries. I seek to be fit in any are of my life where God might point to me. I also have a nickname, "Dr. B." When I was a public high school teacher, Dr. B. is what most of my students called me, at least in my presence. I am still called that by many people though I no longer teach in public schools. I am the author of "Average Joe: With an Extraordinary Story" (available on Amazon). The book fits into the genre of "Biblical Fiction" or "Christian Fiction" and features some of the Bible's lesser known characters. The name of my blog is, "Fork in the Road." Life is filled with forks in the road. It isn't a matter of if we encounter a fork in the road, but when will we and how many will we experience in a lifetime. I love to strum my guitar. I am not a great guitar player but I enjoy it. I also enjoy writing music. I get excited with I feel a new song emerging. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog, "Bishop" in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 30 years as a United Methodist pastor, serving churches all over east and southeast Texas, from just north of Tyler to south of Houston, from the Gulf Coast to east of Madisonville. I currently serve Perritte Memorial UMC in Nacogdoches. I spent one year in the classroom, teaching High School government, economics, psychology, and sociology. Cindy and I have been married for 43 years. We have two grown sons and six grandchildren, three boys and three girls. I enjoy preaching and all it's aspects from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading. I have dabble in drawing and "painting" with pastels as well as woodworking and woodcarving. My current projects are two ukuleles. I collect, repair and restore guitars too. I play the guitar (badly, but I still do) I also enjoy working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, TX, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. This blog started out as devotional writings. In August of 2020, I made a major change to the blog, switching to a daily theme format. Sunday Sermon-usually my manuscript sermon Miscellaneous Monday-misc. writing, poetry, ministry Tuesday Thoughts-Devotion Wed. with Wesleys-hist. & theol. of early Methodists TED Talk Thursday-Video & appl. in current theology Five for Friday-5 things I've seen & my thoughts Sing-Along Sat. - Usually a new song I have written I write, "Strumming a G-Chord with Dr.B." to get my thoughts onto something permanent. After all, they say, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. Seeking the Genuine, Keith Lufkin, Texas August 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: