Christmas Series: God Uses Your Bethlehem
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2: 10-14, NASB)
Jesus’ birth was no accident; that’s something we’ve been really driving home over the past few weeks. His arrival was foretold in the Old Testament numerous times in psalms and songs, from prophets, and from God
Himself. And since everything from his lineage, to the place and circumstances of Jesus’ birth were already in scripture, we could be sure that when it actually happened, we’d have the ability to check and prove that this birth was the arrival of the Messiah God had promised us. Without this foreshadowing, we might have accepted any liar that wanted to masquerade and exploit themselves as the promise of God.
We’ve already spoken about various details surrounding the birth of Christ: about Mary’s being a virgin, about being grafted into Joseph’s bloodline which made Him a part of the house of David, and about the work He was destined to complete. And while we don’t get every piece of information, what scripture does give us, is a place of birth: Bethlehem, the city of David. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah; From you One shall come forth for Me [who is] to be Ruler in Israel, His goings forth (appearances) are from long ago, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2, AMP)
Bethlehem, a town too small to be of any notice, would be the birthplace of God’s son. A place of little recognition would be the setting for the birth of the Messiah; perhaps the last place anyone would suspect or count on. And if you think about it, it’s a recurring theme in Jesus’ story: that the people and places over the course of its telling would come from the least likely of places and the most surprising of backgrounds. Mary, a woman from Nazareth– a place that was forgotten and uncelebrated to the point where people wondered if anything good could come out of it– would be the mother of Christ. Joseph, an obedient, righteous man, would still take a pregnant woman to be his wife, knowing full well he wasn’t the father and what that would look like to the rest of the world. A stable, full of dusty animals, hay, and work tools, would be the nursery for our King. Lowly shepherds on the night shift would be the first people to greet Him.
And I think that hits home a little closer after this year we’ve all had. It’s hard to imagine that at the beginning of this year, our hopes were high, our plans were elaborate, and our goals were set. Now, twelve months later, and we’re faced with all the ways 2020 let us down: canceled plans, unattained goals, and a heaping helping of reality.
Maybe you were like me, and your grand, elaborate wedding day that wasn’t what you originally wanted. Maybe instead of a promotion, you lost your job. Maybe it was more difficult than you could imagine, watching your child learn from a conference call or resign their senior year rites of passage. Maybe the stress of quarantine put more on your waistline than you ever imagined you’d see.
But here’s the thing: sometimes, God’s plans are still better and more wonderful than we can dream up; because we never would have chosen it for ourselves. My wedding day was so precious, and my husband and I decided that the world wouldn’t stop us from choosing each other. It wasn’t the big bash we were planning, but it was still the best day of my life. And maybe losing your job will set you up for a career change that you weren’t brave enough before to consider. Maybe struggling through school with your child helps you create a stronger bond with them. Maybe your high school senior didn’t get to have a senior ditch day, prom, or graduation, but maybe it allowed you to get more family time. And as for the extra pounds? They can always be lost, and maybe it’s God’s way of getting you to trust Him with something else that’s usually in your control.
Whatever your disappointments are today, I can’t tell, but I can assure you that they are mercies in disguise. The things we assume lost are God’s redirecting us to the way he wants us to go.
And you know what? Even though there were prophecies of Christ being born in Bethlehem, it still remained a small town. There weren’t any watchmen keeping an eye out for Jesus. There weren’t any priests telling the people to wait for Him there. And I think that’s just the way God liked it because if he wanted His Son to arrive with trumpets and fanfare, it would have been so. Instead, Jesus was born with no audience and no music. He wasn’t laid in an ornate, jewel-laid cradle. People weren’t celebrating in the street with festivals and dancing, the way we’ve seen when modern-day princes are born.
Instead, He was born with just His earthly mother and father present, laid on a bed of straw in a roughly constructed manger. He was welcomed to the world by a group of ecstatic shepherds and then left to quietly rest with His parents. That night came and went with little recognition from the rest of the world.
But that’s because the work wasn’t finished in His birth. The work was finished in His death on the cross over 30 years later.
So sure, 2020 was a quiet year because we had to stay cooped up inside. We didn’t really have a lot going on. But I know if your year was anything like mine, you learned so much more than you could have with a busy schedule. I’d be willing to bet your spiritual growth was tested and matured much deeper than it ever has been before.
It’s easy to miss God when we’re looking to a million different things for entertainment, experience, and busy-work. It’s so much easier to hear Him when your hands are still and your mind is at rest. And that helps us remember so much better that Jesus’ sacrifice was worth so much more than we can ever imagine because when we’re left to look at the Father and how deeply He loves us, it’s hard to deny or forget.
So I think, after the year we’ve all had, we should be slow to set all these goals and plans and resolutions for 2021. If we’ve learned anything over the past 12 months, it’s that at the end of the day, all that planning means nothing anyway. After all of it, our time would be much better spent looking to the manger– I mean really trying to picture it– and see it in the light of the coming cross. Ask God to reveal to us again the vast meaning of that.
Because at the end of it all, God really does bring the best He has out of the quietest and most surprising of places. A Savior out of Bethlehem, and a deeper understanding of Him out of the hardest of years.
It’s not too late friend, you can still turn to Him and ask Him to bring you deeper.
Merry Christmas to you all. I pray that after this year’s troubles, you find your peace in the One who still holds us in His hand.