It's the most wonderful time of the year! A time of gifts and goodies, of friends and family, of stories and carols. A time to remember God's wondrous gifts of grace and retell the moment those gifts made a special place in our hearts. Here is a story of one such moment . . .

In the spring of 1865, a young preacher from Philadelphia gave a rousing tribute to a leader whose untimely death rocked our nation. But for all the honor of eulogizing an American president like Abraham Lincoln, these were not even the most famous words Reverend Phillips Brooks would pen!

A year later Brooks took a trip to the Holy Land. His travels happened to coincide with the holidays, so on Christmas Eve, Brooks and a few close friends took a quiet, but monumental, journey.

“After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem,” he wrote in a letter home. “It was only about two hours when we came to the town, situated on an eastern ridge of a range of hills, surrounded by its terraced gardens. . . . Before dark, we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the [angels]. . . . As we passed, shepherds were still 'keeping watch over their flocks...'"

Can you imagine what the hillside was like that night? Brooks must have spent some time taking in the historic scene. Perhaps he stopped to watch the sun fade and the lights begin to twinkle down in Bethlehem. Maybe he pondered what the shepherds of long ago must've felt. Perhaps he breathed a silent prayer of thanks to God for the glorious gift of His Son. Whatever those moments held, this poignant Christmastime experience left a deep impression on Brooks’ heart.

A beloved carol is born

Several years after his Holy Land travels, Brooks was reflecting on those precious moments near Bethlehem. As he pondered the experience, his heart stirred again, as if the memory were “still singing in his soul.” So he took up a pen to jot down some lines of poetry:

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

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 today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

That Christmas Eve the beloved carol was sung in Brooks' church for the first time and is still well-loved today. A beautiful testament to God's "wondrous gift" of grace.

Echoes from Bethlehem

This Christmas may our hearts rejoice as we contemplate the wondrous gift of Jesus. May we, too, hear echoes from an ordinary hillside near Bethlehem. A hill where one precious night, heaven was so overcome with joy that an angelic choir gave the very first Christmas concert to a ragtag bunch of shepherds as the Gift of Grace was born. A Gift who would bring fresh hope and promise to our weary, desperate world.

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11

Prayer for today

Heavenly Father, help me rejoice in the joy of my Savior this Christmas. May I remember that lowly beginnings are not the measure of success, that You care more about hearts than titles or fame, and that quiet, unassuming moments often hold the deepest expressions of Your unfailing love. Tune my heart to sing of your grace. Amen.


Journal & Reflection questions:

  1. How can I read the story of Jesus' birth with fresh eyes this season and let the Holy Spirit nestle the truth of it deeper into my soul? (Luke 2:1-20)
  2. Does my heart recognize Immanuel's ongoing presence in everyday life? (Matthew 1:23)


Thank you so much for this beautiful devotion and history lesson. I hope your Christmas is wonderful and God blesses you abundantly. You do a great job with your devotionals. I can almost see pastor Brooks sitting on his horse, watching the shepherds, looking toward Bethlehem. What an awe inspiring thought. Thank you. Merry Christmas

Janna Wright

Merriest of Christmases to you too, Ruth! I love imagining what those scenes outside Bethlehem must’ve been like–the night the angels sang and the night Rev. Brooks visited. Just seems to give our hearts new reasons to appreciate and accept God’s tremendous grace.