posted on December 27, 2017 14:38
Christmas time is here! Our savior, Jesus is among us. “O come, let us adore Him!”
Bethlehem today is a small suburb of 25,000 residents, six miles to the south of Jerusalem. At the time of Jesus, however, Bethlehem would have been a small town of about three hundred residents. Named the “house of bread” (in Hebrew “Bet Lehem”), it was prophesied as the birth place of the messiah (Matthew 1-2 and Micah 5:1-2).
As a member of the Davidic tribe of Judah, Joseph (Jesus’ foster father, the husband of Mary) was to return to his home of Bethlehem in Judea for the Roman census (Luke 2), to ensure his family’s ancestral rights would be retained. This meant a week-long walk of 80-100 miles from Nazareth in the northern territory of Galilee to the southern territory near the Dead Sea. It was an uphill venture through the Appalachian-like mountains to Jerusalem and then down some to Bethlehem. Since Mary was presumably nine months pregnant, it was not an easy journey.
When they arrived at Bethlehem, the city would likely have been chaotic with visitors for the census, as well as overflowing with relatives hosting their visiting families. Where is a pregnant woman to give birth in a place that is not her own? It makes sense that there was not enough room anywhere for Mary and Joseph to stay with needs that were special to her state. Thus, Jesus is born in awkward circumstances, perhaps on a relative’s extended property, in an animal holding area, to provide shelter and privacy for Mary. At first glance, we may see those accommodations as primitive and undignified, and by our standards they were. But for the time, they were within reason, albeit not desirable. Luke’s gospel present’s Jesus birth as contrasted to that of the emperor: Caesar was said to be the Empire’s savior and lord. Jesus, on the other hand, is the world’s true Savior and Lord. Caesar may have been born in a luxurious palace, while Jesus was born in meager means. Caesar’s birth would have been heralded by town criers and trumpeters to the noble classes, while Jesus’ birth was heralded by angels to the lowly shepherds. It shows how God favors humility over pride, simplicity of life over the lap of luxury.
The birth site of Jesus is marked by a silver star on the floor of the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem. The cramped room in the basement of the Church, under the main altar, is a sacred spot for pilgrims to spend time in prayer, and to get a sense of where God was born in our midst. More important than these sites, however, are the altars of our churches where we worship every week. Here, Christ becomes incarnate in the Holy Eucharist for us. Here, God condescends to us and feeds us with His Body and Blood. What we seek of wonder from the “House of Bread” in Bethlehem is even more wonderful in what we have in Holy Communion. May we sing with true joy and wonder at what is born for us this day: “O come, let us adore Him!”