Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On the Little Town of Bethlehem

I really resonate with the lectionary for this season. It is just so rich and far-reaching. I find myself identifying with Zechariah in his doubt. With Mary in her awe. With John in his poetic description of the incarnation. Each one speaks to a different part of me.

I must confess that in the past I spent little time on the Old Testament passages of the season. Other than the ones from Isaiah, of course. One such passage was Micah 5:2-5. It didn't seem to have anything new to say. That is not the case for me anymore. In the last couple of years, this has become one of my favorite passages for the season of Christmas (along with John 1:1-14).

I've always loved the Christmas hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem" by Phillips Brooks. The carefully chosen words and beautiful melody of this song follow me throughout the month of December. These words have taken on new meaning as I've come to understand a little more about Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was not just a small town. Eugene Peterson calls this insignificant, undistinguished village of Judah, "the runt of the litter" (Micah 5:2). There was really nothing special about it.

And yet God chose this most ordinary place as the setting for the most extraordinary event: the birth of our Savior. This is befitting the redemptive nature of our creative God. We - or at least I - almost miss the significance of the place where God's presence came to dwell among us.

The significance of the choice of this little insignificant village for the birth of our Savior doesn't stop with its location and population. That would be enough for us, wouldn't it? To know that God delights to use the commonplace to accomplish his uncommon purposes should tell us all we need to know about our God and what he can do with our seemingly insignificant lives. But there's more...

The real beauty of Bethlehem is in the meaning of Bethlehem itself. It comes from the Greek words "Bet" and "Lehem." These words are literally translated "House of" and "Bread," respectively. So, Bethlehem literally means "House of Bread." Is there any more perfect place for the birth of our Savior, the true "Bread of Life"?

The creativity of our God astounds me. "How silently, How silently the wondrous gift is given" in a little town in Bethlehem and in the quiet of our hearts. May our Lord Emmanuel come to you and abide with you this Christmas season in a new/old way...quietly and completely.



jsw said...

Huh, the house of bread. I like it.

Clay said...

Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

I think this is very relevant to believers, to know that God often works in the ordinary. Too often I look around at my life and, not seeing anything 'extraordinary' going on, I feel as if I'm a failure.

I think this underestimates God's ability to work powerfully in the everyday world around us without drawing large-scale attention to His work. His Kingdom grows like a seed underground, and its changes are often unseen by the sleeping farmer.

I think your mention of "sleeping" brought this NT verse to mind.

Very encouraging, thanks!

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