A place in the story: Bethlehem
I'm going to intersperse a few highlights from this book along with normal posts these next few weeks. Don't worry, the author won't mind. But if you want the whole thing, grab the book. It's not that expensive.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. (Luke 2:6 NASB)
Where should we begin this year's Advent observances? That is a question I have wrestled with while preparing these short devotionals. In a prior effort, I examined the gifts of Christmas (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) to look at the meaning of Christmas. This year, I want to look at the places of Christmas. Where does the story happen? There are many that matter to the story. Consider the Garden of Eden and the plains of Canaan. Think 0f Egypt, or Midian, or Jericho. Imagine the hills of Bethlehem, walked by a shepherd boy with a slingshot. Contrast those hills with the halls of Babylon, walked by the prophet Daniel, or the halls of Jerusalem, walked by Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah. Add to those the Temple of Solomon, the Temple of Haggai, the Temple of Herod...and the village of Nazareth. We even see the curtain pulled back and see how all the heavens touch Christmas.
Where to start?
I am not the wisest of teachers born of men, but I know that the Great Teacher wrote the story in the first place. And where did He start? He started in Bethlehem. He did not start out there on the hills with the sheep or in the city gates of governance.
He started in a manger, just outside an inn. He started when her days were completed and the Incarnation became visible to everyone. We will, therefore, start there. That manger held the Son of God, born for the salvation of mankind. Christmas celebrates that moment, and we will do well to start looking toward Christmas Day from that point.
After all, we face the Advent season with this great blessing: we know the whole story. We are not seeing the story unfold in the first place, as Mary and Joseph did, nor are we jumping in later with the Apostles. We are blessed to look back and know how it ends. We know the terrible glory that is the Cross, the amazing glory that is the Resurrection, and the astonishing glory that is the Ascension.
So we look back, starting at the manger. We remember that Christ was born. Born of a virgin named Mary, chosen by God in His grace--for Scripture gives us no compelling details of her that would pick her. Born to the family of a carpenter, a construction man, named Joseph, who enters quietly stage left, stays for a few years, and departs with no definitive word of when he left. Two people who are highly ordinary, except for the work of God in their lives.
They come to a highly ordinary place called Bethlehem.
True, it is the City of David, but under Roman domination, what does that mean? Precious little. After all, Judea is over near the edge of the empire and hardly that big of a deal. The Romans trade with their territory in Egypt via ship, so the old need for land trade through Israel has abated.
Christmas, then, comes when Someone beyond extraordinary comes into this world through an almost boringly ordinary story: born in Bethlehem, in a manger, because of government bureaucracy. Born on time, at the completion of her days, so that His days could begin.
Let us begin, then, to see how our ordinary lives are transformed as we learn of and walk with the Extraordinary One.
His name is Jesus.
Have you ever felt too ordinary to be of use? Do you think that God can still do extraordinary things through ordinary places?
Hymn for the Day: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" by Phillips Brooks. (#196 in the 2008 Baptist Hymnal from Lifeway Worship.)
Special Music for the Week: "Child of Bethlehem" by Wayne Watson (on his 1994 Album One Christmas Eve, also available digitally)