BEHIND THE SONG WITH KEVIN DAVIS
#23 - "While You Were Sleeping" by Casting Crowns
Kevin Davis returns with another Christmas themed devotional on the instant seasonal classic from Casting Crowns, pulled directly from Mark Hall's book, Lifestories.
 


"While You Were Sleeping" by Casting Crowns has turned out to be my favorite song from Lifesong. Casting Crowns has also re-recorded the song for their new Christmas album Peace On Earth. The song really challenges you to think about how we show others Jesus through our lives and through His Word.

The people of Bethlehem and Jerusalem missed Jesus. Do you know of specific instances in the Gospels when Jesus claimed deity? Are you readily able to point others to those passages and explain them? This song challenges me to think about those questions and the song is based on the following passages.

Micah 5:2:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Matthew 25:5:
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

In reading through Mark Hall’s book Lifestories, he had amazing comments regarding this song.

"’While You Were Sleeping’ took me nine years to finish. The year was 1996. I was trying to come up with something new to sing to the Lord for Christmas. I wanted to compose a new arrangement to the famous hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem." I set out to use the hymn’s original lyrics but to spin them into my own version with different chords. I didn’t even make it to the second verse. I was playing with some chords and realized halfway through the first verse that I was 27 years old and had been singing the song since I was a kid without grasping its meaning. Halfway through the first verse, the whole point of the song hit me: They missed it! Bethlehem missed it. They never knew what happened. They had no idea their Messiah, the Savior of the world, had fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 and was sleeping in a feeding trough in their very village. They slept through the whole thing.

Here’s the original text: "O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by;" The stage is set. Now look what happens next… "Yet in the dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

I began singing, and out came the line ‘O Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping.' When I sang it aloud, it grabbed hold of me. I said silently, 'Whoa, this is so different from what I thought it was going to be.' At first, I had no intention of making the song anything more than it was. But then I went to work at a bank and couldn’t let it go. I was all alone in the bank when I thought of incorporating our country into the song: "United States of America, looks like another silent night."

I thought, 'We’re doing the same thing. We’re missing it. We’re missing the Answer. We’re missing the Savior.' Instantly the second verse took the song in a radically different direction. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the pattern dictated the need for a middle verse between the Bethlehem verse and the America verse. Right then, it hit me. 'What about Jerusalem?' It seemed like such a natural step in the song’s theme, especially when I thought of Matthew 23:37-38: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who sent it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate.”

As with Bethlehem, Jerusalem saw Him in Person, but He wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They had a picture of the God they wanted, but the God they wanted was a political ruler. Regrettably, they’re not alone. Most of America-most of the entire world-is doing the same, which is why the song concludes with us. I pray for our country. For far too many people, Jesus isn’t enough. They want more. They’re guilty of profiling-building their own God-and Jesus doesn’t fit the profile. What is the answer? The world needs to see the Church living the Truth so vividly that everyone can see the difference. I have just described the America that I see. It also describes the Jerusalem that Jesus saw. And it describes the Bethlehem that didn’t see Jesus. Someone else had a similar thought 140 years ago. An Episcopal priest named Phillips Brooks enjoyed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he helped lead the midnight service at the Church of the Nativity, which marks the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. Earlier that night, he took a horseback ride from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Along the way he stopped at the Field of the Shepherds and gazed at the valley below as Bethlehem’s deep and dreamless sleep slowly descended at dusk. He inhaled the moment and kept it to himself for three years, until when back home in Philadelphia, he wrote a five-stanza poem. It was called “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”. It was 1868. He was trying to come up with something new to sing to the Lord for Christmas.”


Here are the original lyrics to “While You Were Sleeping” from Lifesong:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you're lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight

Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had came
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save

Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we're sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we're lying in the dark
There's a shout heard 'cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night

America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping


Some challenging thoughts from Mark Hall’s book Lifestories: “Have you compartmentalized your life and reserved for Him only an hour or two on Sunday mornings? Would people at work be surprised to learn what you believe, or is it obvious to them? Do you see God as an enhancement-as Someone who simply makes life better-or do you truly see Him as life? How do you exhibit that belief?

You can listen to the song here.

Kevin Davis is a long time fan of Christian music as well as, movies, TV shows and multiple PodCasts. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.

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