“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2:4-5
Bethlehem during the first Christmas mirrors 21st century America this Christmas in some striking ways.
Bethlehem was a small city of perhaps a couple of thousand residents during the first century. It was and is located about 6 miles south-southwest of Jerusalem. During the time described in Luke 2:1-7, the population had swollen. Augustus had ordered a census, and the manner the Romans followed was to have everyone enroll in their hometown. People had to return to Bethlehem in obedience to a Gentile emperor’s orders. They had to leave their homes and jobs. To make matters worse the entire disruption was due to taxes! They were going there to pay taxes.
Over the centuries attitudes toward taxes have changed little. No one likes paying taxes. But at least today we don’t have to go back to our hometown to do it.
So, what we have here in Bethlehem is an overcrowded village, filled tired grumpy people trying to get some business done so they can get on with their lives. Sound familiar?
And arriving late was a couple. The young woman was well into her third trimester. She has accompanied her husband, who walked the whole way, on the trip from Nazareth, a distance of about 70 miles that would have taken three to four days. Let this sink in: first time mother-to-be, near the 40th week of pregnancy, four days on a donkey, arriving late, labor has begun (riding four days on a donkey in the 40th week will do that). They arrive in the busy little village and the husband didn’t have reservations. So they end up staying in a cave. “Well, it’s a nice cave. A no-smoking cave. We’ve got fresh straw!”
One of the main themes of Christmas is peace. In fact, on the second Sunday of Advent we light the candle of peace, which is sometimes called The Bethlehem Candle. Bethlehem and peace do not seem to go together. Who made this schedule? Why would God allow His Son to be born in the midst of such chaos?
Unless… Perhaps God was making the point that peace is offered where peace is most needed. If God can bring about such a miracle in a tempestuous little village, ill-equipped to host the most significant birth in the history of the world, what can He do in other places? He brought His gift of peace to that first Bethlehem. But what about the second Bethlehem?
The second Bethlehem is your heart. It is the place where Jesus can be born again, bringing peace where peace is most needed.
Make no mistake, this second Bethlehem can be every bit as hectic, frenzied, and frantic. People are burdened today. They are worried. Entire issues of journals I read are dedicated to helping people deal with the fear and insecurity they are feeling. They want peace desperately, but do not have it.
Our lives reflect our society in many ways. Always striving to try to make something of ourselves, we miss the point that Christmas is all about a gift given in unlikely places. God is coming to you. Instead of rushing through this season, take some time to reflect. And receive God’s gift of peace.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 19, 2011