Christmas cards and carols venerate Bethlehem as an idyllic, quiet place with “silent stars” above it and “deep and dreamless sleep” within its walls. A pleasant picture, for sure. But it wasn’t always so.
Modern Bethlehem enjoys a tourist boom each December as thousands flock to the city in celebration of Christmas. The pilgrims congregate at the Church of the Nativity—the oldest standing church in Israel.
In the second century, when the Emperor Hadrian imposed his polytheistic—and overtly anti-Judeo-Christian—changes to Israel, he desecrated a particular cave in Bethlehem by including it in a grove dedicated to the pagan god Tammuz.
According to tradition, the church escaped destruction by the Persians in AD 614 only because the depictions of the Magi portrayed them in Persian dress.
Over the centuries, the church has fallen into disrepair and has enjoyed and endured many restorative efforts. Most recently, the leaky roof has needed fixing.
Bethlehem had a sordid beginning. But it is immortalized forever as the birthplace of Messiah. As with our own lives, God transformed Bethlehem from insignificant to meaningful because Jesus was born there.
Bethlehem in Your Life Today
The Prophet Micah predicted the city where the Messiah would be born seven centuries before it happened. Micah’s words do little to hide Bethlehem’s ignoble status:
As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. —Micah 5:2
Everybody wanted the Second Coming of Christ at the first Advent. They wanted the political deliver—not the spiritual deliverer. The present age is no different.
For those of us trapped in the confines of time, we suffer from time’s limited perspective. We may not admit it, but we see our greatest needs from God as physical. Our prayers betray our priorities: