For Christmas this year I wanted to surprise my family with a full-blown Christmas concert on my violin. To pull it off I undertook the serious endeavor of learning a handful of Christmas carols. What a joy it’s been to learn some new songs! As I practiced and played pieces over and over again in preparation, one song in particular became especially enjoyable to play – Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.
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
Practicing, playing, singing about Bethlehem got me thinking of course about Bethlehem. What was so special about this little town? Of all the places in the world, why was Christ born there? There must be some intention of God, that He chose to become man, inhabit humanity at this little outpost in Israel. If I searched out the answer maybe it would offer some insight and comfort to me as I was celebrating His birth in Bloomingdale, NJ, where I grew up with my family at my Father’s House.
The story is straightforward. In Luke 2 we learn that Caesar Augustus, the emperor of the Roman Empire declared a census. In order to be registered every man had to return to their city of birth. Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ parents made the voyage from Galilee back to Bethlehem, where Joseph’s family was from. He was a descendant of the most famous, prosperous King Israel had ever known. Chosen by God via the prophet Samuel, King David was the man after God’s own heart and He was born and raised a shepherd in a little town called Bethlehem.
There are many aspects of the story we could dive into to understand what was going on during the time. For example, did you ever consider the political unrest that Israel was in being run by the ruthless Roman emperor? People don’t call census’ for kicks, it is for taxation purposes. The government wanted to account for its occupied peoples in order to leverage money from them, likely to pay for their salaries, public works, and expansion of its own Kingdom and name.
Also consider the trek from Galilee to Bethlehem was approximately 90 miles. During that time such a road trip would be undertaken by foot or whatever animal was on hand and it would involve treacherous risk of crossing deserts, mountains, and rivers – all while Mary was very pregnant. There’d be no easy Starbucks rest stop to refuel along the way.
Not only that, but there was so much uncertainty in the situation to begin with. Mary was divinely pregnant! Joseph and Mary were supposed to get married and lo and behold they are both told individually in dreams that Mary would conceive a child, the Savior of the world, from God himself. Both were probably confused and scared out of their minds as the day was approaching.
Political unrest. Social upheaval. Anxiety and Uncertainty. Going into the unknown with great personal risk being inspired by God. This sounds like modern times! Like my story right now. Like the stories of so many of my friends and family. Who are pursuing a dream or a vision from the Lord and are in the thick of difficulty, awaiting the fulfillment of promise.
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem!
House of Bread.
The Place of Provision. The fertile place of abundance. Towns and cities were often named because of its defining characteristic.
The Son of God, was born, not in a fancy hospital with every modern medical convenience, not even at the comfort of a home, nor with the assurance of friends and family around, but in a stark, cold, barn, miles from home adding insult to injury in a place where they returned only so the government could number them like animals in order to extract money from them to continue to fuel and supply their own rule and regime. And this, Oh, this Little Town of Bethlehem, is the Place of God’s Sustenance for us!
Think about it.
Our provision, our security, our rest, our identity is not from the government, it’s not from our circumstance, it’s not from the messy middle of our voyage, it’s from the certainty of Promise Fulfilled. That there is a time, there is a place, that God brings us to birth the vision, to experience the peace and rest of a promise fulfilled. This place is Bethlehem. It is the place of provision, the house of Bread.
It is in Bethlehem we all return when we come into the Kingdom, where we are numbered, called, known to God our Father. The place where our identity, chosen of God, of the blood line, part of the family where our inheritance is evident and made known to rely on. Immanuel. Christ is with us. Whether we are in Bloomingdale NJ, Timbuktu, or in a little outpost on the edge of the world in Israel we can take comfort in knowing because of Christ’s coming, because of His gift to the world, we are never alone. The end of our story, no matter our circumstance, is always a good one. This is the Father’s House.
You know my Father in the natural is a very good cook. Anyone who knows my dad Mike and has had the pleasure of dining at the McKernan’s homestead has a story or remembrance of an epic feast. Usually it involves seafood. On Christmas traditional Italians share in the feast of 7 fish. They prepare and eat 7 fish for some reason. I don’t know I’m not Italian, but this year my dad decided to outdo the Italians when he picked up his seafood at the authentic Italian market. We started our count at lunch on Christmas eve, continued through the evening, and will no doubt add a few more today. We stood at 11 by midnight last night.
Mussels & Steamed shrimp, Chowder with lobster, scallop, shrimp, and fish, peel & eat shrimp, fried flounder and cod, fried scallops, fried shrimp. This isn’t even mentioning our dinner the night before, salmon and shrimp. This is what I’m talking about. Provision. Abundance. Satisfaction. This is Bethlehem.
Let us remember as we are on our way, wherever we find ourselves on the road in our lives that He has already brought us to His banqueting house, we are provided for, and we can trust that the bread He has given us, the Word of God, is able to sustain and satisfy, like a good seafood feast on Christmas eve. It is a place of sustenance and of peace, as we are able to shake off the weariness of the road, relax, and be cared for.
Merry Christmas 2019.
For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
Isaiah 54:10 New King James Version