Bethlehem; Our Hometown
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Two millennia after Jesus’ birth, we still celebrate it. On Christmas Eve 1906 wireless operators on ships near Brant Rock, Massachusetts, heard voices. This first wireless voice broadcast ever transmitted to the public was a Christian radio program. A woman read the Christmas story from Luke 2.
Jesus’ birth has been observed for centuries, and was anticipated for centuries. The prediction in our text was made 700 years before Jesus’ birth.
Micah 5:2 (Holman) Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the
clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over
Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.
Ephrathah may have been the name of an important ancient family that long lived near Bethlehem. The name was possibly used to distinguish this Bethlehem from other villages of the same name.
“Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”, so named due to the crops that were grown in the fertile fields around it. “House of Bread” was an appropriate name for the birthplace of God’s Bread of Life, who came down from Heaven to feed a spirit-hungry world.
Being the city of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem is praised in song and story, in poem and lore. Its glimmer is tarnished only by the fact it had no room for the holy family to stay in. The English author and defender of our faith, G. K. Chesterton, in his poem “The House of Christmas” said of this sad event.
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless,
All men are at home.
In other words, the holy family’s Bethlehem homelessness is not only sad, but also ironic, in that it has a direct bearing on our life-stories. We often find ourselves feeling restless, homeless in our own homes, yet we feel comfortable in the Bethlehem story, due to what happened there for us.
When reading the Bethlehem story, grieve not for Joseph and Mary. Be sad for us. Restlessness churns in us. We outwardly live in nice houses, but still feel inwardly homeless, until we find our home in the story of a homeless Bethlehem family.
Nothing other than what happened in Bethlehem, and its subsequent story, can satisfy the deepest yearnings of our heart. From the first moments of His life, Jesus showed us where not to look for meaning.
The newborn King of the Universe pictured the utter insignificance of the pomp and stuff that dazzle us and mislead us into thinking they can fill our desires. We are often addicted to these things, yet they never satisfy.
When we finally decide we want to give up our self-made, unfulfilling clutter, Bethlehem becomes our story. We like its simple unspoiled beauty.
For His followers, Jesus is beautiful. Years ago, when I did research for the Apologetics courses I taught at Second, the fact of Jesus’ beauty came rushing in on me unexpectedly. William Cowper well said,
Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings.
Sometimes the surprising uplift can come not only as we sing, but also as we study, or whatever else we may be doing at a given moment.
While amassing detailed information to defend our faith, a beautiful truth dawned on me. My tedious exhausting research had made me forget a reality that suddenly shined in me again. I had been focusing solely on facts when out of the blue, something in me said, “Facts, yes; but also beauty.”
I was once again awestruck by the wonder of Christianity’s unique Christmas story. Nothing else has ever been like it in all this world’s history.
The beauty of our Christian faith also wowed G. K. Chesterton. He went from being a hardened unbeliever to being a sold-out believer due to the beauty of Jesus. Chesterton found special delight in the Christmas story.
G. K. grew up in an irreligious home. Raised by Unitarian parents, he was brought up on fairy tales, myths, and legends. His formative years were filled with wonder. His unbelief never offered him an adequate explanation for the world’s marvels. To Chesterton, the whole creation was magic. When he met Jesus, Chesterton said he met the Magician.
G. K. always felt something personal was in the world, like a work of intentional artistry. For instance, he all along believed lovely red roses had to have been planned. When he met Jesus, Chesterton said he met the Artist.
Our story, the Christian story in general and the Christmas story in particular, truly is the greatest story ever told. “God created humans. They rebelled against Him. The Lord loved them anyway, and through a virgin birth became one of them to pay their debt. God suffered the rebels’ punishment. He died in their place, and rose from death to save them.”
As this beautiful tale rushed over me in the midst of my tedious study, I remember musing, “If the Christian story is not true, please have someone run find an author to write it as quickly as possible. Don’t let this saga be forgotten. It is a love story too beautiful to lose, a wonder too marvelous to take for granted.” We need the Bethlehem story. We can find a home in it.
We imagine the night of Jesus’ birth as being cold. We envision a manger surrounded by animals huddled together to keep warm from harsh bitter winds. The Bible doesn’t provide us the Nativity’s weather details, but winter’s gloomy scenes do powerfully picture the condition of our world before Jesus came. Winter is deathly thin. Skies are gray; trees are stripped to skeletons that stand breathless like stone statues in the cold cutting wind.
In his fictional world of Narnia, C. S. Lewis drew the bleak picture of having to endure winter without Christmas. Mr. Tumnus told Lucy; the wicked White Witch cast her spell on Narnia, decreeing it must be always winter, and never Christmas. The lesson Lewis meant to convey was clear. Without Christ’s birth, we would be locked in a hopeless wintry existence. The Bethlehem story, God becoming man, rescues us from a dreary winter.
Christian Missionaries brought this beautiful story to the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in the Middle Ages. When the wife of Prince Edwin of Northumbria became a Christian, she tried to win her husband to faith. Edwin decided to gather his nobles to discuss this new religion.
An elderly warrior captured the crux of the discussions, “The life of man, O king, is as a sparrow’s flight through the hall when you are sitting at meat in winter-tide, with the warm fire lighted on the hearth, while outside all is a storm of rain and snow. The sparrow flies in at one door, and tarries for a moment in the light and heat of the fire within, and then, flying forth from the other, vanishes into the wintry darkness whence it came. So the life of man tarries for a moment in our sight; but of what went before it, or what is to follow it, we know nothing. If this new teaching tells us something more certain of these things, let us follow it.” With this, Christianity became the official belief of the land. Jesus’ story was, and is, too beautiful to reject.