By Jon Duncan
Special to The PREVIEW
Bethlehem: small, insignificant, unimpressive, just a few miles from Jerusalem, on the edge of the Judean Wilderness; fertile land, a scene of terraced orchards and olive groves, surrounded by shepherds’ country. It had dusty streets, mild climate, simple houses clustered together before the opening valley and terraces that surrounded the village.
Bethlehem, or “house of bread,” as its name means, was rich in Israeli heritage, mentioned often throughout the Old Testament and remembered for many things — yet soon it would be remembered as the birthplace of the Messiah.
Yes, it was an important village in the history of Judah, but never one of significant size or influence; at the time of Jesus’ birth, there were most likely no more than a few hundred residents. Because of its size and lack of importance, there were likely not many inns located in Bethlehem — maybe even only just one. And probably not a large inn at that — not many rooms and certainly not a large enclosure to house the animals that would accompany the travelers. But just around the corner or just over the hill, there was a cave, one of the many caves that dotted the countryside around Bethlehem, caves that were used for sheepfolds, storage areas — and, in some cases, burial caves for the families who lived in the tiny village, complete with a supply of burial cloths to use as they laid their loved ones to rest.
How interesting that God chose that very place — in a dark cave filled with dirty straw and the stench of barnyard animals — to introduce the Creator of all things who would step into time in order to change the flow of history and the destiny of mankind for all eternity. How interesting that Jesus, on the night of His birth, would be wrapped in the very same burial cloths that He would wear as He was laid in the tomb on the day of His death. Ordained by God, orchestrated to the smallest detail, designed to show the world — so that there could be no misunderstanding — this child was born to die.
His mission was clear, His purpose unmistakable, His determination unstoppable; He came to give His life for us. He came to settle our outstanding debt — our debt of sin that we could never repay. The Old Testament prophets told of His coming, John the Baptist described Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and multitudes were amazed by His teaching and miracles.
He entered this world in a stable cave, He lived a sinless life and demonstrated to the world that He truly was the Son of God through miracles and wisdom greater than this world has ever known, and He exited the stage of human history through an unimaginably painful death on a cross.
From stable to tomb — from one cave to another — the most important life of human history spent each day in preparation for you and for me. The Author of Life gave His life so that you and I might have eternal life. I pray that in every scene of the Christmas story, in every song of the season that reaches your ears, in every gathering together of friends and family, you will see the fingerprints of God on the greatest gift ever offered to you.
The package is neatly wrapped in the simple story of the babe in the manger, is filled with the greatest love that you could ever possibly know, and comes with the promise of — to those who will receive and open this gift — a joy and peace beyond our understanding. This gift will never break, or wear out or fade over time; this gift will not become outdated or irrelevant, it will never lose its value and it cannot be stolen or given away to someone else.
It has your name on it and is waiting for you at the foot of the cross. Go ahead. Take it. Open it. It was prepared especially for you. Questions? Uncertainty? Fear? Join us on Sunday morning at 10:15 a.m. at Centerpoint Church, 2750 Cornerstone Drive, where there will always be someone there who would be happy to visit with you, answer your questions and offer you hope.
Or, check out our website for more information: centerpointpagosa.com. And don’t forget Main Street Bethlehem next Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings — it’s a great way to start your Christmas season celebration. It’s fun for the whole family.
Plan to spend 30 minutes to walk through the streets, visit with the shop owners, sample some of the food and enjoy the atmosphere of first century Bethlehem. There will be Roman soldiers ready to enforce the mandatory census and collect the appropriate taxes, anxious and nervous pilgrims making their way to Bethlehem, and eager shop owners who are excited to make extra money from all the additional pilgrims journeying to the city of David.
There will be authentic costumes, Jewish dance, live animals, a synagogue with priests, a ram’s horn shofar, shops, the inn and, of course, the stable where Jesus was born.
There is no charge and no time limit, so just leave your cares at the door and take a step back into time and you will leave with a better understanding of what it might have been like to be in the City of David during the birth of our Savior.
By Jon Duncan