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Bethlehem: A Little Town

by on July 7, 2006 in Articles
“‘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.’ Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 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 their peace” (Mic. 5:2–5)

When we listen to many Christmas carols and look at most Christmas cards, we find them filled with sentimental words such as tidings, goodwill, noel, cheer, and merry. Scenes typically depict a newborn two-year-old with radiant beams from His holy face, ox and ass bowing before Him, and halos hovering above Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. We call it a manger, not a feed trough; we call it a nativity, not a birth. We do all we can to wipe away the ignobility the Bible explicitly states—Christ’s birth represented humility in the truest sense of the word.

Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Micah prophesied that One coming from eternity would bring the Jews back to their land and rule Israel with worldwide fame in the strength of the Lord. And this mighty Messiah would come from the ignoble little town of Bethlehem. Why such humility? Micah blended both advents into one prophesy, as the author of Hebrews summarized so well: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28).

We needed a Savior before a King. “If Jesus were born one thousand times in Bethlehem and not in me, then I would still be lost,” Corrie Ten Boom said.  So appropriate remain the words Phillips Brooks penned in 1868 after a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem: “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Meditation
Lord Jesus, the only way we could ever have peace on earth and goodwill among us was for the sin among us to be removed. I worship You for the indignity You embraced, from Your cradle to Your cross, that we might receive forgiveness and live in glory.


A Refuge in the Loneliness
A psalm of David, when he was in the cave. A prayer.
“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living’” (Ps. 142:1–5).

While the holiday season provides many people with happiness and special traditions, it also evokes painful memories—sore spots in childhood or the loss of loved ones—for others. While many celebrate the joys of life, many others suffer its loneliness.

During one of the most desperate times of his life, David, the anointed and future king of Israel, found himself running from two separate enemies. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, David sought refuge in the Cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1). He felt utterly alone. But in his prayer he confessed to God that only God knew the way he should turn. In the Hebrew the word “you” stands emphatic. Only God understood David’s troubles. And so from the depths of this cave, David confessed, “You are my refuge.” David’s phrases illustrate the tension between anguish of soul and dependence on God. A desperate loneliness often feels like a prison as it did to David.

But when we feel overwhelmed and alone, we should remember the Lord intimately knows us and concerns Himself with our lives. David teaches us what we must hear: the lonely times are when we should seek refuge in God through prayer instead of the world’s solutions. God wants to teach us during these struggles what David affirmed: “You are all I really want in life” (Ps. 142:5 nlt).

Meditation
God, when I feel alone I cling to Your promises, “I will not abandon you as orphans” (John 14:18) … “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). Help me see loneliness as Your call for me to come to You.

(New Year’s)
The End and the Beginning
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of the lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:1–5).

The Bible begins with the tree of life alongside the tree forbidden. So the created earth became the arena in which man could fulfill his purpose to rule under God for His glory. The fall of man into sin cursed not only mankind but all creation. In Malachi’s final words the Old Testament ends not far from its beginning, clutching a hope of redemption from the curse: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes … or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:5–6).

The coming of Christ provided the ultimate sanction of the earth He created. And God revealed the dignity of humanity by becoming a man. While on earth Jesus fulfilled humanity’s original purpose of demonstrating God’s glory by living an obedient life—obedient even to death on a cross. And through His atoning sacrifice Jesus removed the curse, providing all mankind the opportunity to “eat the fruit from the tree of life” (Rev. 22:17 nlt).

From the first chapter of the Bible to the last, God used the physical earth as the stage to demonstrate man’s spiritual life. The new heaven and earth reproduce the same intention as the originals in that they provide a platform for man to rule under, and so glorify, God. Let us live on the earth for the purpose for which God created us—His glory.

Meditation
Oh, You, who are the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, will cause the end of the earth—and the beginning of a new one. I long to walk in such a place where I may behold Your face, rule the earth under Your authority, and display Your magnificent glory forever and ever—the purposes for which You created me so long ago.
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