December 13, 2010

Brooks: The wondrous gift is given!

Today best remembered as a clergyman and reformer, Phillips Brooks was born in Boston on December 13, 1835. On his 50th birthday, he wrote: "I reached the half century, and shook myself as I started out upon another half century." Brooks also wrote poems intended to be sung in the form of hymns. One remains popular today:

O Little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent hours go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

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 to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The groat glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Brooks had traveled through the Holy Land and wrote to a friend about his experience on Christmas eve, standing in an old church in Bethlehem, "close to the spot where Jesus was born." He wrote the hymn above for his Sunday school students, based on his own experience. From what I have found, it was sung for the first time in 1868 to a tune written by Philadelphian Lewis Redner, who claimed there is a lost verse:

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the Blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching,
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment