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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Back to Bethlehem - Part 2

"Will you come back to Bethlehem with me?"  (From Part 1)

Bethlehem (House of Bread) was a small village 5 miles south of Jerusalem, a grain-producing region which began as an early Canaanite settlement on a caravan route. In Genesis 35, we learn that this town was the burial site of Rachel. During the period of the Judges, Bethlehem was the home of Ruth and Boaz, who were the great-grandparents of King David. David’s family lived there, and he was anointed king there. Thus the Scriptures refer to this town as the City of David.

Although there are other locations also attached to the Christmas narrative, it’s in this seemingly insignificant town where we place our focus. 

      Bethlehem was a Place of Wonder – of amazement, awe, admiration, astonishment.

Luke gives an account of the shepherds, whose job it was to care for the sheep, many of which were used in the temple sacrifices in nearby Jerusalem. 

Can you imagine the scene? An ordinary night . . . the sheep had settled down and their keepers were gathered around the campfires. All of a sudden, an angel appears in the night sky with the glory of the Lord all around. No wonder they were terrified (2:9)! But they still managed to hear the message loud and clear: fear not, good news, great joy, for all people, the birth of a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord (spoke of deity). The angel gave them specific directions of how they could find this baby. And then . . .What would it have been like to hear an army of angels praising God in unison? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (2:14).

The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and searched until they found the baby wrapped up tight in the most unlikely of places - a manger. And there were His parents just as the angel had said. What a moment! I imagine their story bubbled out as Mary and Joseph eagerly hung on to every word, perhaps a confirmation to them that God’s plan was, indeed, unfolding just as it was meant to be. 

The shepherds “made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” Can you imagine the band of shepherds traipsing through the streets of Bethlehem, as dawn broke, telling everybody they saw in this busy little town: “The Messiah has been born!” Messiah! The very word breathed hope to these Jewish people under Roman rule. How they longed for their Messiah. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (2:18). They were astounded. They marveled.   

Have we lost the wonder of Bethlehem? The wonder of the miracle baby in the manger? The wonder of the Word being made flesh to dwell among us?

Over the course of Jesus’ life, many people wondered. We’re told that his parents marveled at the temple soon after His birth after hearing what Simeon said about Him: He would be a light to the Gentiles and glory to Israel. Twelve years later, they found the missing Son of God in Jerusalem. Remember Jesus’ words? “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:33; 48-49). Of course, they were amazed!  

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, many others were astonished, but not all of them believed. People in his home town (Luke 4:22-30). Many of those he taught (Luke 9:43-45; 11:14f; 20:26). Even His own disciples had weak faith (Luke 8:22-25).

This leads me to think that we can wonder without worship but we can’t truly worship without wonder.

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