Bethlehem and the Certainty of Advent
“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
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie; above thy 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.” (Phillips Brooks, 1868)
In one of the ancient archaeologically-discovered Amarna Letters (#290) written around 1400 BC, the then Prince of Jerusalem writes that one of the towns in his domain, Bit-Lahmi (Bethlehem), has gone over to the side of the ‘Apiru (ancient term for Hebrew people). This letter supports the ancient existence of the little town of Bethlehem, which remained small and obscure through all its years, even through the date of the birth of its greatest native, Jesus, great David’s greater Son, and beyond. Bethlehem, translated “House of Bread,” was the birthplace of King David, the great grandson of Ruth, who found her husband, Boaz, in Bethlehem after returning from Moab with her mother-in-law, Naomi, as the story is told in the book of Ruth. It is simply amazing that a foreign Moabite woman would have a whole book dedicated to telling her story among the books of the Bible. But so it is, as Ruth tells the story of the genealogy of Jesus, the promised Redeemer/Kinsman of us all, and the story of Bethlehem.
Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah prophesied that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah, a glimmer of truth adding to the many prophecies of the Old Testament of the coming, promised Redeemer. It was always a verse here and a few verses there over many centuries of the compiling of Scripture of Law and Prophets dealing directly with a promised Ruler and King. The religious leaders in Jerusalem were able to answer King Herod with the specific Micah prophecy when he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They did not rush to Bethlehem, but Herod made sure his soldiers did to ensure the Messiah/King would be destroyed.
It was a wonder of heaven that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was not his parents’ home. They were from Nazareth, 90-some arduous walking miles north. It was a Roman Caesar census of the whole Roman Empire population begun in 8 BC and still being completed three years later in outlying Palestine that brought Joseph and Mary to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to register. God governed world affairs in such a way that the prophecy of Micah from eighth century BC came true in 5 BC. Bethlehem would be the place of Jesus’ birth, but only his infancy home. Nazareth would be the town of his upbringing; for he would be called a Nazarene. Every jot and tittle of Scripture would be fulfilled, not just generally, but specifically and precisely. The pinpoint spotlight on the little town of Bethlehem in the prophetic words of Micah shone down through the dark centuries every bit as bright as the star that guided Magi to Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. Nearly all the world’s inhabitants had no idea little Bethlehem would be so honored because the Scriptures were not so loved or carefully studied with an anticipation of fulfillment, except for believers like Simeon and Anna.
Bethlehem has a rich history connected to the family of David, the family of Joseph and Mary, and the family line of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. It tells us much of the nature of the plan of God that, with all the grand natives in its history, it remained “the little town of Bethlehem,” small in stature, relatively poor in worldly riches, ordinary, weak in power and esteem, yet the place where the King of Kings came into the world in human flesh. The plan, literally unique from all others of man’s imagination, shouts out “truth.” It convinces men in its humbleness, its authenticity, and its absolute non-requirement of the world’s trappings. Its story also convinces us of the precise fulfillment of all Scripture, especially of what is yet to come. The Scripture is true in all it tells us of coming days, just as it was true in prophesying the place of Jesus’ birth two millennia ago. The story of Bethlehem ought to encourage you to study the Scriptures and anticipate their precise fulfillment. As Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Bethlehem has a powerful Advent message: He came just as he said, and he is coming again just as he said. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
(3rd verse of Phillips Brooks’ hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, 1868)
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