December 25 — In Where?…Bethlehem?

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“Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7 GNT).

A Wide Place in the Road

When I was in college, the Choir from my school took a trip to the Holy Land during the Christmas break. We sang on the town square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. The experience was not as wonderful as one might think. Bethlehem has been turned into a tourist town and Jesus is the main attraction. Souvenir shops lined some of the streets. In addition to the trinket stores, there are two huge cathedrals, each of which claim to house the actual birthplace of Jesus.

To the people who lived there, it appeared that Christmas Eve was an excuse to have a party. The scene around the square resembled New Orleans during Mardi Gras.  As each group sang, the response, while respectful, was hardly what one would associate with a worship experience.

We toured the cathedrals while we were there, and they were very impressive. I remember thinking, however, that the Bethlehem I envisioned from reading the story of Jesus’ birth in the book of Luke was quite different from modern-day Bethlehem.

The Shepherd’s Field

Just outside of Bethlehem was the one place that matched my mental image of the biblical story. The Shepherd’s Field was just that, an open field. We were there in the evening and moonlight illuminated the area. It was easy to imagine sheep on the rolling hills and a group of shepherds watching them. I could imagine an angel of light appearing suddenly and telling the shepherds, “Fear not!” I could imagine the whole sky being filled with angels. I could imagine the shepherds making their way into town to find the baby that the angel told them about.

Bethlehem was a tiny village. The King of the Jews was not born in Jerusalem. He was not born close to the Temple, the dwelling place of God. He was born in Bethlehem for 2 reasons: 1) in Micah 5:2, God had promised that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; and 2) God used the smallest and least to show His strength.  Christ came for all men, not just the privileged and powerful.

If you are familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth in the second chapter of Luke, the picture you have in your mind is better than the Bethlehem of today. If possible, go out to an open field at night and imagine what it would have been like to be a shepherd. Listen for the angels singing, “Glory to God!”

The Bottom Line

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to fulfill prophecy and to show His strength. God often does things that go against conventional wisdom to show that He is above conventional wisdom.

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