Faith Holds Wide the Door
Dr. Jody Ray

One of my all-time favorite Christmas hymns is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This hymn has been around since 1868, and it’s one of my favorites because of its simple yet profound lyrics. It speaks of how God broke into human history with the gift of a savior – a baby born in a manger to a virgin named Mary, and this baby would bring eternal hope for the world. Talk about the power of God intervening into human history in an amazing and yet humble way!

What might surprise you is how this great hymn of the Church came to be. It was written by an Episcopal priest named, Phillips Brooks. Rev. Brooks pastored the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, PA. He had just returned from a trip to The Holy Land and was still in awe of all he had witnessed there when he decided to write the words to this beloved hymn. Ernest K. Emurian, in his book, Stories of Christmas Carols, describes it by saying, “When he returned to America he still had Palestine singing in his soul.”

Rev. Brooks approached his church organist and Sunday school superintendent, Lewis Redner, and asked him if he would create the accompanying music for the song he’d written to be sung at their upcoming Christmas celebration. Redner agreed but had a hard time creating the music to go with the five stanzas that Rev. Brooks had written. After several starts and stops and getting more and more frustrated at his lack of creativity, something amazing happened. In the middle of the night, the night before the celebration, inspiration came, and Redner wrote the music for the hymn as we know it today.

The following evening at the Christmas Celebration, a group of 36 children and six Sunday school teachers opened up their time together by singing the song created by the two men. The date was December 27, 1868. It wasn’t published as an official hymn of the Episcopal Church until late 1892. Phillips Brooks would become the Bishop of Massachusetts in January 1993. He died that same month never knowing the magnitude of the hymn that he created.

Today, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is one of the most popular Christmas songs in the church and is printed in almost every denominational hymn book. 

My favorite verse in this hymn, verse 4, has been dropped from the original song. This is what it says:

“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.”

I love those words… “And faith holds wide the door.” Christmas is the reminder to all of us to have faith. It’s the reminder that no matter what may be happening in the world around us or how difficult life may be in the moment, God is sovereign! We can put our faith in Him because He gave us the greatest gift ever given – a Savior born in Bethlehem. This Christmas remember it’s our faith in Jesus Christ that brings hope and joy. 

See you on Sunday! The doors will be open wide as we continue our preparation for Christmas to arrive once more.