Old Testament Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5aand he shall be the one of peace.
In the Old Testament book of Micah we hear about the place where God’s plan will be fulfilled. Located just about five miles from Jerusalem, we find Bethlehem. Today, even though it is a short distance, the two towns are separated by a wall and checkpoints, for Jerusalem is in Israel, and Bethlehem in the Palestinian section of the land. When we traveled there five years ago, we had to leave our Jewish bus driver and guide behind, go through the checkpoint and meet up with a Palestinian Christian guide and driver. The tension there is tangible.
We traveled to the Church of the Nativity. To enter the church, you stoop down to enter a doorway that is no more than four feet tall. It is called the Door of Humility, for one must bow to enter. Once inside, we stood in line for quite some time, snaking our way along the walls of the church to the steep, uneven stairway that leads downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs is a star on the floor underneath a small altar. This is the place many believe Jesus was born.
When everyone in our group were able to pause, pray and reflect at that space, we gathered in a small area near this holy spot and sang “Joy to the World.” What a wonderful memory.
Bethlehem is located about seventy miles from Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary lived. It was quite a trip then, filled with rocks and hills and less than ideal roads.
The prophet Micah declares the coming of a ruler from this town. Bethlehem is the birthplace of David, the shepherd king, and the prophets knew that the messiah, the promised one who would lead the people to a new level of prominence would be a shepherd King as well.
But even with this high distinction, understand shepherds were not often spoken in such high regard. Because of their jobs, shepherds normally didn't make it to the Temple worship services. They didn't practice Sabbath day observances. They were seen as ignorant, irreligious, immoral, crude and vulgar Jews – they were unclean, far from the promises of God. They were not to be trusted, and even in the courts their words was not to be trusted.
And to these, the shepherds of Bethlehem, the good news is given by a multitude of angels. God does have a sense of humor, yes?
The Magi are led to Bethlehem by a star. The holy family – Mary and Joseph - travel there in obedience to the government's decree. The shepherds see a dramatic, heavenly vision. By all these roads travelers can reach Bethlehem. We might take a different path, but whatever road we take, the story invites us all to Bethlehem.
A beautiful rendition of the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Sarah McLachlan.
Let us Pray. Almighty God, you chose the place for the birth of your Son, our Savior. May we make room in our homes and in our hearts for your Son once again. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.