Phillip Brooks, at the age of 22 had graduated from Harvard and was teaching school at Boston’s Latin School. He did not last long as a teacher because he could not deal with his student’s lack of interest. After much time in prayer, Brooks began studying at the Episcopal Theological Seminary to be a minister of the gospel.
By 1861 he had graduated and was pastoring the congregation of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. Brooks convinced Lewis Redner to be the organist and Sunday school superintendent at his church. Due to Brooks’ dynamic preaching and Redner’s music their church was filled with a thousand children. The church continued to grow. By 1863, America was in the middle of the Civil War and the congregation was filled with women wearing mourning black and children without fathers. By the end on the war, Brooks was tired and depressed. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Brooks was asked to preach his funeral because of his reputation as an orator.
After Lincoln’s death, at the age of 30, Phillip Brooks took time off from the church and went to the Holy Land in an attempt to find spiritual rebirth. He was in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve in 1865, when he decided to get away from the pilgrims who had come for the holidays. At dusk he rode into the tiny village of Bethlehem and the idea of being in the place where the Savior was born, the heavenly king, he was overwhelmed. He felt like he was surrounded by the spirit of the first Christmas.
Brooks went back to his church in Philadelphia, but his experience in Bethlehem continued to haunt him. In 1868, he wrote a poem relating his experience on that 1865 Christmas Eve. He shared his poem with Lewis Redner and asked him to write music to accompany the poem. Redner struggled with the composition. One night the tune came to him in his sleep. On that Christmas morning “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” was complete.
By the time of Phillip Brooks’ death in 1893, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” was one of the best loved Christmas carols in the world. Brooks, however, is best known for his volume of sermons that are still read and studied today.
Taken from: Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins
Listen to this hymn here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jWA3JyWOaI