Morgan Griffith: O Little Town of Bethlehem

morgan griffithI respect religious opinions that differ from my own, but as a Christian, I wish everyone the peace of this season, and for my Christian brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas.

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 wond’ring 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 giv’n!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of his heav’n.

No ear may hear his coming;

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive him, still

The dear Christ enters in.

As the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem make clear, Christians believe something special happened in the town of Bethlehem. In a manger in this small town some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was born. We celebrate this event each Christmas, and we remember Bethlehem’s part in the story as well.

Because of its importance, Bethlehem has been a destination for pilgrims, the faithful, or just the curious over the centuries.

St. Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. She famously built a church where the manger, in fact a cave, was traditionally believed to have existed. The church was dedicated in 339. Although that original church was later destroyed some two hundred years later, it was rebuilt, and as the Church of the Nativity is the oldest Christian church in daily use today.

At this site in 1865, Phillips Brooks, the rector of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, was inspired to write O Little Town of Bethlehem. He was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, riding on horseback the roughly six miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and on Christmas Eve participated in a service at the Church of the Nativity.

Traveling to Bethlehem has not been without its dangers, a sad reminder that humanity still needs the peace promised by the birth of Jesus.

Access to pilgrimage sites such as Bethlehem is often cited as a cause of the Crusades that began in 1095 and went on sporadically for hundreds of years. In the nineteenth century, it was also a cause of dispute in the lead-up to the Crimean War between the Ottoman Empire, France, and Britain on one side and Russia on the other.

In our time, Bethlehem has sometimes been a victim of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It stands in Palestinian territory today.

I have visited the area twice.

Being in Jerusalem was a very moving experience. However, I was advised that it was a potential security risk for me to travel to Bethlehem as an American elected official.

So while my faith was greatly bolstered by visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, I have never visited the Church of the Nativity, although I looked into Bethlehem on one visit through the high-tech fence that separates Israeli territory from the West Bank.

As those of us who celebrate do so again this Christmas, our thoughts will turn once more to the little town of Bethlehem. It represents something far beyond its geographical location or its population, or even the historic church buildings that have been put up there. As the hymn says:

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

For all people, whether celebrating Christmas or not, I wish the peace of this season and best wishes for a happy New Year.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also, on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.


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