O little town of Bethlehem

 I.      The Journey
1Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4Joseph 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 family of David, 5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. Luke 2:1-5

The Summon to Bethlehem
There is much speculation and dispute concerning the decree from Caesar and its timing. For the sake of staying on topic it is enough to say that aside from Luke’s testimony we have no other evidence of their being a census in the latter years of Herod’s reign, but at the same time we have no justifiable reason to question Luke’s reliability on the subject. The journey from Nazareth would have been at least a three day journey. The journey would have been difficult with Mary being nine months pregnant. Consider though that this journey would bring some relief for Mary and Joseph from the scandal of life in Nazareth.

Likely Mary and Joseph would have taken the route passing along the Jordan River on the Eastern border of the land, crossing over the fords of Jericho into Judea.[1]
Bethlehem

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from  you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago,  from the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2

Five miles south of Jerusalem was the little town of Bethlehem. This little town was one of rich history as it was there that the story of Ruth took place. In this little town David was both born and anointed King of Israel (I Samuel 16:1), its hills were probably where David as a boy wrote some of his psalms while watching sheep and it was here that David longed to drink from its well (II Samuel 23:15-16).
While Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem one can only imagine how God must have been remembering His conversations from centuries ago with His friend David in the hills of Bethlehem.

Alfred Edersheim offers a rich and poetic illustration of the final stage of their journey to Bethlehem:
“A sense of rest and peace must, almost unconsciously, have crept over the travelers when at last they reached the rich fields that surrounded the ancient ‘House of Bread,’ and , passing through the valley which, like an amphitheatre, sweeps up to the twain heights along which Bethlehem stretches (2,704 feet above the sea), ascend through the terraced vineyards and gardens. Winter though it was, the green and silvery foliage of the olive might, even at that season, mingle with the pale pink of the almond – natures ‘early waker’ – and with the darker coloring of the opening peach-buds. The chaste beauty and sweet quiet of the place would recall memories of Boaz, of Jesse, and of David.” [2]

“Francis [of Assisi]could not even utter the name, Bethlehem, without stammering with emotion, ‘like the bleating of a sheep'” -John Saward

II.   Unto You A Child  Has Been Given
 
Introduction
“Gregory [of Nazianzen]…insists that we cannot be mere spectators of the starlit stable: ‘Run with the star and offer your gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and to God and One who died for you. With shepherds glorify Him, with angels sing hymns, with archangels join in chorus…travel faultlessly through every stage and faculty of the life of Christ. Be purified, be circumcised; strip off the veil that has covered you from your birth.’”[3]

“Imagine being in Jerusalem with Jesus in the age to come, the great King over the earth who is arrayed in glory. He takes you by the hand and you begin to walk down the slopes away from the city. After walking for several miles you come to a small town set on a hill, unaware of what was happening. Suddenly you stop at the crest, along a ridge, and Jesus says, ‘Over there…that is where I was born’, with a smile on His face. ‘I just thought I would show it to you since you spent so many hour meditating on it.’ And you’re undone and ruined anew with love for the next two or three hundred years.”[4]


As we already know the fullness of God is found within this child. With each cry of Holy Child He tells us of His aching heart of love for depraved and fallen humanity. “The birth of Christ is a deep well of the knowledge of God from which we must learn to drink. In the obscurity of Bethlehem is hidden a repository of humble love and ardent desire.”[5] Though the details given of the event are few one must not just read through them but rather take their time to meditate on the riches of this precious memory of heaven.

The Setting of this Precious Moment
6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7

There Was No Room in the Inn 
After their arduous journey the need for housing was needed.  The word for “inn” in Luke 2:6 is “katalyma” which normally means either a guest room in a private residence or a caravansary, an informal public shelter where travelers would gather for the night. Luke uses another word in Greek for “inn” in Luke 10:34 for a roadside inn (pandocheion). With this being said it is very possible that Joseph and Mary were planning on staying with a friend or a relative in Bethlehem but due to the crowds during the census and most likely arriving late that they lost the room. Thus a manger would be their shelter and place of rest. The language of the narrative gives us the hint that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem for some mysterious amount of time before she would go into labor.

Their Fight to Trust
One can only imagine how in those last moments when Joseph was frantically trying to find a room in the inn God was smiling upon their desperate trust in Him. One can only imagine that with every hardship previously the couple endured and especially now in these final moments of trying to find place to stay Mary and Joseph were beginning to struggle to believe. One can only imagine how in these moments Mary and Joseph would begin to ask God the questions “Did You not send me an angel?” or “Did You not say I was to give birth to Your Son, the promised King?” Now in these final moments the couple in the midst of the wrestle is choosing to trust in the Lord and His perfect leadership.

The Mystery that is Immanuel
“ And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

As mentioned in a previous session we must come back to who this child is before we go any further. This is YHWH. The One enthroned on high whom all of heaven gazes upon crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” is now a newborn babe in a feeding troth with animals gazing upon Him. He who clothed Himself in unapproachable light is now a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. The One who was there at creation as a master craftsman has become a child now dependent upon His own creation.

YHWH’s Humble Love
“So many features of this event ought to shock us. As Caesar Augustus sat upon his throne in Rome and boasted in the size of his empire, as Herod agonized about his successor from his palace in Jerusalem, there was a young maiden in a cave having contractions.”[6]

The Manger scene is one of the most offensive moments in all of history, yet in the eyes of Trinity it is one of their MOST precious memories. God had the right to be offended at the manger but He was so in love that He didn’t even care about the manger, for He humbled Himself willingly out of love. The One who sits enthroned on high and laughs became a baby lying in a feeding trough crying. The King of Glory’s first house was a manger, His first bed a feeding trough. With each cry and babble God is declaring of His meek and lowly heart and of His great love. Truly this great show of humility shows much of the heart of God and one ought to linger on this scene letting His humble and meek love enrapture their hearts. The reality that King Jesus came into the world wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in manger truly is a “sign” as this was far from common way for a child to be born. In humble obscurity He came, in glory and triumph He left and in majesty He shall return. This is the Christ.

“Looking upon our desperate plight He plunged into our story in the fullness of time. That fact alone should tear our hearts asunder, but love carried Him even to the lowest place.”[7]
“My Jesus, supreme and true God! What has drawn Thee from heaven to be born in a cold stable, if not the love which Thou bearest us men? What has allured Thee from the bosom of Thy Father, to place Thee in a hard manger? What has brought Thee from Thy throne above the stars to lay Thee down on a little straw? What has led Thee from the midst of the nine choirs of angels, to set Thee between two animals? Thou, who inflamest the seraphim with holy fire, art now shivering with cold in this stable! Though, who settest the stars in the sky in motion, canst not now move unless others carry Thee in their arms! Thou, who givest men and beasts their food, hast need now of a little milk to sustain Thy life! Thou, who art the joy of heaven, dost now whimper and cry in suffering! Tell me who has reduced Thee to such misery? ‘Love has done it,’ says Saint Bernard. The love which Thou bearest us men has brought this on Thee.”[8]

“He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, so that you may be in the altar. He was on earth that you may be in the stars. He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens. ‘He being rich became poor for your sakes, that through His poverty you might be rich’ therefore His poverty is our inheritance, and the Lord’s weakness is our virtue. He chose to lack for Himself, that He may abound for all. The sobs of that appalling infancy cleanse me, those tears wash away my sins.”[9]


[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p 129
[2] Ibid.
[3] Saward, p 118.
[4] Stephen Venable, Life of Christ in the Gospels: Session3- The Treasury of the Gospels & the Birth of Christ, p27
[5] Ibid, p 28.
[6] Ibid, p 29.
[7] Ibid, p 30.
[8] Calvin Miller, the Book of Jesus, p 226 (quoting St. Alphonsus Ligouri)
[9] Ancient Christian Commentary: Luke, p 38

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Posted on December 22, 2011, in On the Life of Christ and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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