By Jonathan Duncan | Centerpoint Church
Bethlehem: small, insignificant, unimpressive. Located just a few miles from Jerusalem on the edge of the Judean Wilderness, it had fertile land and a scene of terraced orchards and olive groves, surrounded by the shepherds’ country. Bethlehem was a village where everyone knew everyone, with greetings by name and questions on the health of fathers and grandfathers. Women visited by the well as they waited for their turn to draw water to begin the chores of their day; children played safely everywhere in the town, for Bethlehem was small enough that every child was known by every parent and all were treated as their own. It had dusty streets, a Mediterranean climate, similar-looking 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 — the burial place of Rachel; the town of Ruth and her kinsman redeemer, Boaz; the scene of David’s mighty men who risked their lives to provide their much-loved leader a cool drink of water from Bethlehem’s well; and, of course, the event that was the most important event in Bethlehem’s history — but soon to become the second most important event in its history — the birthplace of King David.
Yes, it was an important village in the history of Judah, but not one of significant size or influence; at the time of Jesus’ birth there were most likely no more than just a few hundred residents. Because of its size and lack of importance, there were likely not many inns located in Bethlehem — maybe even just one, and 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 — as we understand the geography of that area — there was a cave, one of the many caves that dotted the countryside around Bethlehem, caves that were used for sheepfolds, storage areas, overflow animal shelters — and, in some cases, burial caves for the families who lived in the tiny village. 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, the timeless alien who would step into time in order to change the flow of history and the destiny of mankind for all eternity.
Such was the scene in that smelly cave in Bethlehem that night: there was nothing to attract the attention of the weary travelers coming to town for the census — not even the faintest hint that there might be something special going on there, just the tear-stained cheeks of the glowing young mother as she held her firstborn, just the quiet — but very proud — young daddy who had just successfully delivered his very first child and now humbly gazed into the eyes of the Savior of the world.
Paul eloquently describes the entry of Creator God into time and space as an infant born to a pair of teenagers whose lives were dedicated to God, and briefly follows this life through time and into eternity: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5–11).
It was the most remarkable gift offered in a most unremarkable package. Did you miss it? Stop. Take another look. The Father sent a host of angels to proclaim His Son’s birth — did you miss the announcement? Were you out of town, or maybe out in the woods or on the slopes? It’s OK, the announcement is proclaimed all over again every December — don’t miss it this time. He came for you, He put on a human face so that you could recognize who he is and why he came. He accomplished his mission, he finished the job he came to do. He made it possible for you and me to join him at his place for eternity.
This gift is the gift of a lifetime — the gift that keeps on giving well beyond your lifetime. This gift is forever. But as with any gift, we choose to accept or choose to ignore; if the packaging is not fancy enough to get your attention you might be tempted to set this gift aside. Please don’t, as there is coming a time when this gift will no longer be offered.
Need a fresh perspective on the Bethlehem story? Maybe something to remind you that God uses the simple to contain the profound, the plain to illustrate the perfect, the unremarkable to proclaim the remarkable? Join us for the recreation of what it might have been like on the night of Jesus’ birth as we wonder together while we walk through the streets of Bethlehem, located at Centerpoint Church on Dec. 1-3, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. There is no charge, but you will experience the sights, sounds and smells of first-century Bethlehem; you will have the unique opportunity to experience the setting of our world when God became man for you. We hope to see you there.