Bethlehem by Over the Rhine

Advent and Christmas always plunge me back into music and poetry, mostly, I believe, because the wonder and mystery of the incarnation cannot be expressed merely in the language of explanation and logic. Instead, this mystery stumbles beyond our words into the leaping artistry of words and melodies to help us enter into the deepest places of what the Apostle Paul described as “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5). 

Over the RhineThe other day, I was listening through the album Blood Oranges in the Snow by the Cincinnati duo Over the Rhine. This is the third Christmas album they assembled and it still catches my imagination. Here is a song entitled “Bethlehem” from that album.


They write this about the song:

We put out the call to various songwriters who we consider great to help with the heavy lifting of the songwriting on Blood Oranges In The Snow.

When Jack Henderson from Scotland sent the song “Bethlehem” we immediately knew it was timeless, but we didn’t know it would prove to be so timely. Again, how ironic that the very birthplace of Jesus, should prove to be one of the most conflicted, un-peaceful regions of the world: Jesus, the child refugee who turned the world upside down with a message of love being the greatest human aspiration, even (and especially) when it involved forgiveness of enemies. (I stand convicted along with everyone else.)

When Karin heard Jack’s demo of the song, she insisted he take the lead vocal.

And the words to the song:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Have you been forsaken
In your dark and dreamless sleep
Your heart is breaking
And in your wounded sky
The silent stars go by
Oh little town of Bethlehem
Be still tonight be still
Mary she was just a kid
Jesus was a refugee
A virgin and a vagabond
Yearning to be free
Now in the dark streets shining
Is their last chance of a dream
Oh little town of Bethlehem
Be still tonight be still
Cradled by a crescent moon
Born under a star
Sometimes there’s no difference
Between a birthmark and a scar
Oh little town of Bethlehem
With your sky so black
May God impart to human hearts
The wisdom that we lack
Should you chance to find
A hope for all mankind
Oh little town of Bethlehem
Be still tonight be still

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