Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why Bethlehem?

My Scripture text today is from Matthew 2:1-12

A Jewish lady named Mrs. Rosenberg who many years ago was stranded late one night at a fashionable resort - one that did not admit Jews. The desk clerk looked down at his book and said, "Sorry, no room. The hotel is full." The Jewish lady said, "But your sign says that you have vacancies." The desk clerk stammered and then said curtly, "You know that we do not admit Jews. Now if you will try the other side of town..." Mrs. Rosenberg stiffened noticeable and said, "I’ll have you know I converted to your religion." The desk clerk said, "Oh, yeah, let me give you a little test. How was Jesus born?" Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born to a virgin named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem." "Very good," replied the hotel clerk. "Tell me more." Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born in a manger." "That’s right," said the hotel clerk. "And why was he born in a manger?" Mrs. Rosenberg said loudly, "Because a jerk like you in the hotel wouldn’t give a Jewish lady a room for the night!"

We know the story of Bethlehem, and what happened there. But, of all the cities, towns and villages in Palestine why did the Lord God choose such an unheard-of hamlet as Bethlehem for the birth of the greatest figure ever to enter into human history? If a site selection committee had been appointed, the name of Bethlehem probably would have never made the list. There are all kinds of important reasons to favor another location.  The city of Hebron, for example, played an important role in the beginning of Hebrew history. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and later David were associated with Hebron. On the other hand, Jerusalem is an even more logical choice. Six hundred eleven times the city is mentioned in the Old Testament. For centuries, from the day David captured it from the Jebusites to make it his city, Jerusalem was the center of religious and civil life in Israel. The magnificent temple of Solomon was there. The royal palace too. Our site selection committee would be hard pressed to find reasons to deny Jerusalem the privilege of welcoming the new king. But Jerusalem fails to make the cut.

There was always Nazareth, too. This is a logical favorite because it was the home of Mary and Joseph. It offered the most in convenience. Life could go on as usual for Joseph, Mary and Jesus surrounded by relatives and good neighbors. No interruption in the daily flow of activity.

So why Bethlehem? By the ancient Prophet’s own words Bethlehem "was small among the clans of Judah" (Micah 5:2 NIV). For whatever the reasons, Bethlehem never rose to a position of prominence in its entire history. Two events stand out in its history, though. It was here that Israel’s great and ideal king, poet, and hero, King David, was born and grew up. Before that, a most beautiful love story, the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz in the Book of Ruth, took place.

But for the most part, people came and went in Bethlehem with no sense of destiny for many years. This notion of obscurity is captured by a verse from one of the favorite songs sung during the Christmas season…

O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie!

Above the deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by;

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

Bethlehem’s beginning dates back into the dim past of history. It had lain still in a "deep and dreamless sleep" for nearly two thousand years before shepherds came to seek a babe lying in a manger or Magi from the east were led by a star and bowed to the new king. Why wake it now? Well, let’s look at the name itself. Bethlehem is a Hebrew word. The name literally means, “house of bread.” And I think this is significant in 3 ways.

1) Christ was born in Bethlehem, "the house of bread", to identify with the common man. Jesus was not born in the house of royalty, nor the house of riches, nor the house of celebrity. Jesus was not born in Jerusalem, or in Rome, or in Athens, or in Alexandria.  Jesus was not born in any political, commercial, cultural, educational, or socially significant city of the day. When Micah, the Old Testament prophet, foretold the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, he emphasized its lack of significance to the world. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. " (Micah 5:2)  Bethlehem - "The House of Bread". Bread is one of life’s most common things. God wanted His Son available to all. His birth was announced to shepherds, the common man, but not to King Herod. His cradle was a manger, an animal’s feeding trough in a lowly stable. You don’t have to be rich to know Him. You don’t have to be well-known or popular to know Him. Just be you. Jesus came not for the religious, for the ones who thought they were alright, but for the ones who were aware of their needs. 2) Christ was born in Bethlehem to satisfy our spiritual hunger. Jesus said, " I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)  Bread is a good comparison to our Lord because He satisfies, gratifies and strengthens us spiritually just as bread does physically. Many are eating at the wrong table. Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”  It is easy to get caught up in searching for meaning in life from the wrong things because there are a lot of things that bring temporary happiness. But only Christ satisfies the eternal dimension of the human spirit. Christ is all the soul of man needs for spiritual satisfaction. That fact that Jesus was born in "The House of Bread" gives us confidence that God does indeed want to choose us to be His children, no matter how insignificant we may seem to ourselves or to the world around us.

And lastly, 3) Christ was born in Bethlehem to show us that each of us must choose him as Savior for ourselves. If one person eats a meal, it doesn’t satisfy any other person’s hunger.  The Bible says that "we are all partakers of that one bread." (1 Cor. 1:17) That "one bread" is Christ. He is the only bread that offers life and the decision to receive Him is an individual one. And He invites each of us to partake of His presence today. 

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