"O SING A SONG OF BETHLEHEM"
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2.11)
INTRO.: A hymn which discusses the life of the Savior who was born that day in the city of David is "O Sing A Song Of Bethlehem." The text was written by Louis Fitzgerald Benson, who was born on July 22, 1855, at Philadelphia, PA. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania law school, he practiced law for seven years, but in 1877 entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where his father was a trustee, to become a Presbyterian minister. After his graduation in 1886, he begn his work with the Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer in Germantown, PA. Also, he took an interest in hymnology, so that his own library eventually grew to 9,000 volumes, and penned some 21 hymns of his own. This one is dated as early as 1889 and was first published in The School Hymnal which he edited in 1899 for the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work.
In 1895, Benson helped to edit The Hymnal of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. His other works include The Hymnal for the Congregational Church of 1896; Chapel Hymnal of 1898; Studies of Familiar Hymns in 1903; The Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1905; The Hymnal Revised in 1911; The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship in 1915; Studies of Hymns, second series, in 1923; Hymns: Original and Translated in 1925, which also included "O Sing A Song Of Bethlehem;" The Hymnody of the Christian Church in 1927; and The Hymns of John Bunyan in 1930.
After his retirement in 1892, Benson spent the rest of his life as an editor, lecturer, and hymnologist until his death at Philadelphia on Oct. 10, 1930. Most denominational hymnbooks use an English folk tune (Kingsfold) which a minor-key English melody arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The only one of our hymnbooks that I know of to include the song used a tune (St. Michel’s, Ripon, Jerusalem–Purday, Beulah, Goshen, Hinton, Palestine, or St. Maria) of unknown origin, perhaps also an English folk melody or possibly derived from one of the old Psalm tunes. It first appeared in the 1789 Hymns and Psalms compiled by William Gawler. The modern arrangement was apparently made, as used with Karolina V. Sandell Berg’s hymn "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," by Charles Henry Purday (1799-1885). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.
The song focuses on four important places in Christ’s life to emphasize the importance of His earthly ministry.
I. Stanza 1 is about Bethlehem
"O sing a song of Bethlehem, Of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them From angels in the air.
The light that shone in Bethlehem Fills all the world today;
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth The angels sing alway."
A. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem: Matt. 2.1-6
B. To show the unique nature of His birth, angels appeared to shepherds in the nearby fields to bring the news: Lk. 2.1-10
C. Because their message is recorded in the scriptures, the angels still speak of Jesus’s birth, and the light that shone on Bethlehem still falls today through the gospel: Jn. 8.12, 2 Cor. 4.4
II. Stanza 2 is about Nazareth
"O sing a song of Nazareth, Of sunny days and joy,
O sing of fragrant flowers’ breath, And of the sinless Boy.
For now the flowers of Nazareth In every heart may grow;
Now spreads the fame of His dear name On all the winds that blow."
A. Jesus Christ grew up in Nazareth: Matt. 2.21-23, Lk. 2.39-40
B. It was in Nazareth that the sinless Boy prepared for His earthly ministry as He became a man: Lk. 2.51-52
C. Just as Jesus literally dwelt among the flowers of Nazareth, so even today He can dwell spiritually in our hearts by faith: Eph. 3.17
III. Stanza 3 is about Galilee
"O sing a song of Galilee, Of lake and woods and hill,
Of Him who waked upon the sea And bade its waves be still.
For though, like waves on Galilee, Dark seas of trouble roll,
When we have heard the Master’s word, falls peace upon the soul."
A. Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry and did much of His work in Galilee: Matt. 4.12-17
B. One of the most spectacular miracles of Christ took place on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked upon the water and stilled the tempest: Matt. 14.22-33
C. The same power that brought peace to the stormy waves can bring peace to troubled hearts even today: Phil. 4.6-7
IV. Stanza 4 is about Calvary
"O sing a song of Calvary, Its glory and dismay,
Of Him who hung upon the tree, And took our sins away.
For He who died on Calvary is risen from the grave,
And Christ, our Lord, by heaven adored, Is mighty now to save."
A. Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary: Lk. 23.33 (for reasons we may not fully understand, most translators have chosen to retain the more familiar Latin name for Golgotha in this particular passage)
B. However, the story of Jesus’s life does not end with His death, because He was risen from the grave: Lk. 24.1-8
C. Because Jesus shed His blood to take our sins away and then rose again, we have the assurance that He is mighty to save: Matt. 26.28, 1 Tim. 1.15
CONCL.: It is said that teaching Bible doctrine through a graded series of hymnbooks has been a distinctive contribution of the Presbyterians since Benson’s time. This summary of Jesus’s birth, life, work, and death was originally intended for young people. However, since it expresses important truth that anyone can understand, it is equally appropriate for adults to sing in worship as we are brought to think about the historical significance of each of these places along with a present-day application. Thus, it is good to be encouraged to consider these things as if someone were exhorting us, "O Sing A Song Of Bethlehem."