O Little Town of Bethlehem~ by Fr. Bryan Wolf
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
The peace and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all!
We can sense the excitement in the air! Christmas is but a couple of days away! The joyous birthday celebration of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But what of that very first Christmas? It really wasn’t even Christmas then. Bethlehem. A small town located in the hills of Judea, a not ten miles from Jerusalem. Rich in the history of the Jewish people. Rachel is buried here, and it was here that Ruth and Boaz met and were married- ultimately becoming the great grandparents of David, second king of the Jews.
“Thus says the Lord, you Bethlehem… from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of all Israel.” [Micah 5:2] “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord, his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace…” [Micah 5:4-5]
When it was announced that a census was to be taken by Quirinius (Roman Governor of Syria), Joseph “… went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, to whom he was pledged to be married and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in the manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” [Luke 2:4-7]
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you this day in the town of David, a Savior has been born- he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign unto you, you will find him wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.” [Luke 2:8-12]
We can imagine this chaotic scene. The small town of Bethlehem crowded and brimming with people, many of them extended families as the census required them to travel to their ancestral villages. Sharing homes and rooms. Bustling with activity and of course, noise. Hardly conducive to the stress and strain of childbirth. But with this information, we tend to overlook an important point. Our savior was not abandoned, nor born in conditions to harsh.
We learn from scripture, that shepherds were nearby in the fields tending to their sheep at night. Normally, winters in this part of the world are deary, cold and rainy. This seems not to have been the case. Had it been, shepherds normally would have moved their sheep inside barns. We may believe that this winter’s night was somewhat mild.
Scripture all tells us that there was no “guest room” for Mary to deliver her child. It is a likely assumption, as they traveled to Bethlehem to register in their ancestral home, that Joseph and Mary had family there. Being pregnant, we could assume she would not have been turned away. But with each house filled to the rafters with noisy relatives, where to birth a baby in peace? In a manger, of course!
A manger, a small attachment to the main house were animals were quartered. It is dry, warm and cozy. Close enough for family, but removed enough for quiet. There Mary and Joseph, could rest from their tiresome journey and insure the baby Jesus was comfortable too.
We needn’t paint a picture of harsh uninviting conditions. Yes, babies were born in more comfortable conditions such as a house or bed, but this was a frenzied night. We must remember too, God had provided a magnificent star and a chorus of angels to serenade his birth- could we truly believe God would allow Jesus in a mess?
I cannot think of a more beautiful and tranquil way in which to enter the world at the time. A dry warm manger, laying peaceful under the watchful eyes of mother- and a donkey and a cow or two. A cow has such beautiful eyes. Jesus must have smiled and perhaps even giggled.
Bethlehem- noisy, crowded, bustling. The manger- dry, warm, safe.
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, acsend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in- be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angel, the great glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us- our dear Lord Emmanuel!” [O Little of Bethlehem, fourth stanza by Fr. Phillip Brooks. (c) 1865.]