A Timely Christmas Carol – Part 1

December 22, 2015
by Lori Ciccanti

Psalm 59:16 – But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. (NIV)

Judges 5:3 – Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song. (NIV 2011)

Recently, I read the story behind a popular Christmas carol, the song we all know and love, called "O little town of Bethlehem". The author, Phillips Brooks, lived during the civil war, a dark and tragic period in American history. Phillips, an Episcopalian clergyman at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, stood firm in his support of the Union to end the evils of slavery. Yet, as the battle raged on, the pastor began to experience extreme burnout and fatigue. Meanwhile, the congregation was in mourning. They were looking to their pastor for comfort, but the church, like the country, was divided. Not everyone was of the same political persuasion.

Subsequently, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Phillips was called upon to deliver the eulogy. Later that year, he travelled to the holy land, seeking a period of respite, a time to restore his soul. Then, on Christmas Eve day in 1865, being overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem, the pastor set out on a borrowed horse, despite warnings of danger, and travelled alone to the quiet Bethlehem countryside.

In a letter addressed to his father, Phillips tells how he rode to the shepherds' field outside of town where the angelic announcement took place, a beautiful view from the hills of Palestine. There, he observed shepherds still keeping watch over their flocks, and that evening, he attended a five-hour service at the Church of the Nativity. Phillips experienced a personal revival. As a result, today, believers from every denomination around the globe are singing these familiar words:

    Yet in thy dark streets shineth
    The everlasting Light;
    The hopes and fears of all the years
    Are met in thee tonight.

Reflecting on the circumstances surrounding this beloved Christmas carol, I thought about the dark and tragic world that we live in today, with conflicts, terrorism, political unrest, and divisiveness. Still, as we celebrate the birth of God's Son, we are reminded that Jesus is not only the light of the world, but also the Prince of Peace. Therefore, in times of trouble, the same Spirit that stirred Phillips' heart to write is the One to renew our faith and trust in the One who was born in Bethlehem so many years ago – the One Who was born to set us free from sin and death.

Prayer: Father, we thank You for the blessings of this season, for the music and celebration that honour the birth of Your precious Son. Fill us to overflowing with the gift of Your Spirit, that we may worship and serve You with all of our hearts. This we ask in Jesus' holy name. Amen.

About the author:

Lori Ciccanti <dlalsina@mchsi.com>
Ocean View, Delaware, USA

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    Great word Lori. Merry Christmas.


    Excellent Lori, especially your last paragraph!
    Blessings.


    Thank you so much. Such an interesting devotion and so relevant to today!
    Thank you!


    What a beautiful devotion! Thank you.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours.
    (SK)


    Dear Lori,
    A very fine informative and worship-inspiring devotional.
    Thank you.
    Keep writing.


    As I read this marvellous, moving Devotional (wihout knowing of it’s author), I knew in my heart that it can only be written by the one and only Lori Ciccanti, a marvellous writer indeed.
    Bless you, Lori!


    Lori,
    Thanks for your words this morning. I have never heard the story of the song. It brings the real story of this glorious season.
    I’m looking forward to part two.
    Thanks again, Merry Christmas.


    Thank you for this most interesting and meaningful meditation. This carol has taken on new significance for me in addition to it being one of my favourites. Please continue to write for the devotional. I am always ministered to by your words.
    (B.C.)


    Merry Christmas Lori & Lou and family.
    This was a timely message in such a bad world we live in. The Christmas season should remind us of “the reason for the season”! And you did that for many. God bless you Lori for that. Thank you.


    Dear Lori:
    It was a pleasure reading your devotional this morning. I didn’t know this story. When we sing it in church or hear it on our CD’s. I will think of Pastor Philips and the troubling times he lived in and how we too can be at peace knowing our Lord is in charge and all will be well.
    May our good Lord bless you and Lou this Christmas and bring full healing to Lou.


    Hello Lori, I want to thank you for a most interesting and inspirational devotional that you contributed to the site.
    I have forwarded it to many others.
    The picture of that pastor heading out on horseback into the Judean hillside is really something! My husband and I were in Bethlehem some years ago. I can’t imagine anyone going out on horseback these days.
    When our tour bus stopped, we were greeted by a 10 metre high concrete barrier separating the Palestinians and Jews and soldiers standing around brandishing their kalishnikovs!
    And to think that America was going through the trauma of civil war and the death of Lincoln, puts it in a different perspective.
    I will never sing that carol again without thinking of how those words were penned and by whom.
    Thank you again.
    Have a blessed Christmas.


    Dear Lori:
    I’m deeply moved by your meditation. While I read the writings every day and enjoy most of them, I must say that your offering today cuts right to the heart of Christmas.
    I’ve recently moved so no getting together of family for me this or any Christmas in the near future unless the Lord sends a miracle. Since I’ve moved, the community where I usually find my strength is behind me and the new one of this town has still to be established. Combined with the stresses and sadness of the world at large as you’ve mentioned, it is a difficult time for me just now. Yet, Christmas comes as always.
    I’ve been looking for those few words that I can hang on to in order to find my way through this season. Thanks to your inspiration of this morning, I think I’ve found them. I thank you for the example of the wonderful writer of this carol and for giving me a way to handle this Christmas so that I can be happy in the Lord no matter what else happens around me.
    I wish you and your family the happiest of Christmases and all of the best for the coming year.


    Thank you so much.


    Deeply moving lesson for all of us.
    Thanks.

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