O 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

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

Bethlehem wasn’t where Mary and Joseph though they would give birth when they first got married.  Most of us don’t travel 30 days or so to go sign in live as proof we exist. Nowadays most of us have access to a hospital or midwife in our immediate area.

But God knew.

God wanted there to be no question that Jesus came from David’s line, just as He has promised, so led Caesar to request a census of His people so history would record Joseph as one of David’s descendants.

So Bethlehem entered the stage as the setting for the miracle, get also not quite as one would expect.

We are used to online or phone reservations when we travel from home, so we know where we will end up to rest our heads at night.

Not so in biblical times.

Unless you had direct family in those days, it was first come, first serve.

Traveling with a very pregnant Mary would likely have slowed Joseph down, and resulted in no room anywhere in town.

Except a stable.

Not even a stable/barn by today’s standards, but likely a hole in the side of a hill, or a low built clay enclosure to keep a roof over the owner’s animals.

Not an ideal birthing setting.  Hygiene alone, it must have been very off putting to think of delivering the Messiah into the world as its King in a stable.

There is also no record of a midwife, so both Mary and Joseph might likely have been very panicked, nervous and crying out to God as she began to give birth.

I can relate.  And so could God.

Which is why Christ’s entry was designed so that the every day person would know God had been hearing each and every cry for help.

The Presence came as the very present we needed at Christmas:

Perfectly wrapped for the average Joe.

Perfectly planned as the Promise to come heralded through the Word and by the angels.

The Perfection of God now present in the work of His hands.

Emmanuel.

God with us.

Born in Bethlehem, announced by angels, snug in his earthly parents arms in a stable.

The Hope for all arrived with less fanfare than we would expect, yet surpassin every expectation we could have for this fulfillment of prophecy and promise.

While Bethlehem slumbered, its Messiah slipped into a stable and began to transform the world!

What a reason to offer Him fresh praise again this season.

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Historical Background:

In 1868, Pastor Phillips Brooks wrote the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” after seeing Israel first hand.  His church organist Lewis Redner¬†put the words to music.

when the sky fills with wonder…the star

We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth….

Matthew 2:2

A bright star appeared in the eastern skies to herald the newborn King.

God didn’t leave anything out in trying to reach humanity.

The scholarly Magi, exceptionally intelligent and scientifically gifted, were entralled with the wonder of this star. Why did it appear? What is the meaning behind it?

So they studied, and read old manuscripts and texts, and decided they needed to travel to where the star seemed to be hovering.

Bethlehem.

Only God could make a star suddenly erupt into the night sky, and have it keep its place.

There is only one main event that God wanted highlighted on the earth- the arrival of Jesus, God with us.

But it appears only three wise men noticed, for we don’t read that they were representatives of a bigger group. Just three wise men wonderstruck at the thought of meeting a king whose coming was announced in the heavens.

Nor knowing what this would look like, only following the prompting to come, they headed on their journey. Likely a longer journey, similar to Joseph and Mary’s. Uncertain about all the details save one: a king was being born.

The star shone the way.
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Image from: http://www.bethlehemstar.net

This star was not just a sign for the times, or these wise men, but for all generations who read the Christmas story.

It shines for all to gaze at the wonder of its Creator.

For we worship a God who not only caused a star to emerge at exactly the right time, but this same God sent His son to become flesh and emerge as a babe into our world.

The King who stepped off His throne to be wrapped in humble garments. The Mighty One who limited Himself into human form, a wee baby, and entrusted Himself to a young couple to raise Him.

The star to me signals how much God loves to highlight His son, whom He adores.

Wonder with me at how much He loves us to have set Advent into action.

God in all His majesty, might and power shone a star spotlight on Jesus’ birth.

Reminding us of His love, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Calling us to come & see.

May we never lose the wonder at the whole of this amazing, wonder filled, awesome true story!

But the star was only one part of the wonder to appear that night….

#AdventuresinAdvent continues!

when even the hostel is full

…because there was no room in the hostel.

Luke 2:7 MSG

Not only was there no room at the hotels or inns in Bethlehem, but the B&Bs & hostels were also all full.

It appears that the Carpenters (coz doesn’t that seem like a good fit for Joseph & Mary’s last name?!) arrived in town later than all the other travelers who also had to show up for the census role call.

With an about to give birth wife in tow, I am sure Joseph was inwardly wishing for swifter mail or reservation service!

How disheartening to arrive, and keep knocking on doors looking for a place to lay their heads, after several weeks of travel.

When even the hostels don’t want you, it can seem the world is hostile.

Yet God made a way.

That final knock, a likely very humbled Joseph asked again, and was informed there was room in the stable for them that night.

With an about to give birth wife in tow, those begging cannot be too choosy, especially if the night was growing cold and dark.

And the baby announced He was on His way.

I am sure the stable was the only place left to choose from, because no man in his right mind would encourage his wife to deliver in a barn.   But somehow, this too was part of God’s design.

The King of All was about to be born, and only one person made room for Him, and that was only in their stable.

How much space are you making for Him this year?

Do you only invite God into your stable, where the muck and things that need to be tamed live? Where you rule?

Or do you open wide your heart, mind, soul & spirit and say Yes, God- abide in me. Every nook & cranny, leave no dark spot unturned- so His dwelling place can become worthy of the King living there?

I believe the owner of the stable was somehow blessed through offering its use to the Carpenters.
It is very likely they would have met the baby after He was born, maybe even helped arrange for a midwife to assist Mary, as out of towners wouldn’t always know where to turn in an emergency.

I wonder what animals were in the stable that night.  I wonder if somehow they instinctively knew their King was being born, and were still out of respect.

I do know that the world still gives Jesus a hard time about His preferred living accommodations, within His children.

May He restore our wonder, that God loved us so much, His very son was born in a stable, and wrapped to lie in a manger.

The life that had come to give us new life first laid His head in the unlikeliest of beds.

May our hearts not be as hard at the wood of the manger, but instead invite Him in.

The greatest gift of all resided in heaven before being packaged in His humble beginnings here on earth.

Make room this Christmas for Jesus. 

#AdventuresinAdvent are drawing closer to their climax!  Immanuel is coming!

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womb with a view

This title would not let me go:
Womb with a view.

What else would you call it?

Jesus, one third of the Trinity,
enfolded His divinity
with the help of Holy Spirit
and became flesh,
bone & blood
in a virgin’s womb.

Wow.

Just that action, a flash of a nanomoment in human time, sent shockwaves out across the universe & heaven in an act intended to rock all known existence.

God with us, on His way.

That is mind boggling enough, but here is where I am drawn today…. and maybe, just maybe you might be too.

Jesus, full of Holy Spirit and yet fully human, in the womb.

Could He chat with God from in there?

Could He hear His Father’s voice in the womb?

If so, the womb takes on a whole new significance with Jesus within.

Children in the womb take on the mix of their parents’ traits while developing.

Was Jesus growing with any of Joseph’s physical traits?

Because I suspect after all the shock Joseph has already gone through, and might be up ahead as the father of the Messiah, God would have made Jesus look like Joseph.  Not 100%, as with any newborn, but enough that Joseph would wonder again at the miracle, and his heart would be melted towards His son.  Maybe his nose, or build…

Because God chose Joseph to raise His son, I have to believe His compassion would be for Jesus to resemble His earthly father, enough for tongues not to wag too much about His parenthood.

I wonder how much of Mary was already visible in the baby in her womb? Did He already have her heart for worship? Her eyes?

We know Jesus was fully human & God from the second that creation spark started Him growing in the womb.

We just don’t know what that looked like, really, as He grew there.

I believe He would have had a sensitivity to learning about His earthly parents while inside.  Prayed for them on the hard days, rejoiced with them in the moments of celebration.

I wonder if He tried not to kick Mary too hard as they traveled to Bethlehem.

I wonder if He prayed for a smooth delivery, for God to be with Him in the shock of entering the world, for angelic protection as He did.

All we know: Jesus was fully human, and fully God, all in one miraculous present.

And somehow, God would have worked out all those details of human appearance intertwining with Godly character in the arrival of Jesus.

Who is still in the womb on His way to Bethlehem.

While we may wonder at the view He had in the womb, how He was born of Mary and all God all rolled into one tiny baby is a fact!

#AdventuresinAdvent continue ūüėČ

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on the road to Bethlehem

We left off with Joseph & Mary on the long trek to Bethlehem.

Still on the road…

I wonder if Mary asked,¬† “Are we there yet?!” as her womb started sending signals it was full and had had enough.

I wonder how sick of leading the donkey and being on his feet all day Joseph was?

How the outdoors only reminded them both of how much they wanted to be back home already, resting indoors. Census over and done.

Instead, the road continued to stretch out in front of them, still needing to be traveled.

Can you relate?

I often grow tired of my daily walk.  I fail to see the purpose in endlessly folding laundry, constantly washing dishes, ceaselessly cleaning the house, just to do it all over again.
The familiar, the routine, the repetition. Dreary with doing the same jobs, traveling the same roads over and over…

Not all that different than finding ourselves on the road to Bethlehem again.

Except this year, I am determined to not take the Advent story for granted.

Having been raised with it, it can seem like a pointless journey to take again each December, save for this fact:

The arrival of Jesus changed everything.  God reached down, touched an average woman and folded Jesus into her womb, to slowly grow until He was to emerge and meet His creation face to face, God with us.

In the familiar, the routine, the repetition, we find we are no longer alone.  We have been met in our humanity, in the dreary drudgery of our daily to do list. By the God who wants us to be known, embrace us in our hurts, bind our brokenness, restore our energy, guide our steps, helping us move beyond the words and enter the story.

You see, God knew the road we were traveling was a dead end without His intervention.

The road to Bethlehem was always part of God’s plan.¬†

For Jesus was meant to be born in David’s city, fulfilling the promise God gave David so many generations before- the Deliverer was coming.

But first, He needs to be delivered into the world.

Picture weary Mary, struggling to get comfortable in her last weeks of her pregnancy…whether on the donkey, or lying down.

See Joseph limping from the rough terrain, shoulders sore from guiding the occasionally stubborn donkey, stomach rumbling from the excursion.

The road to Bethlehem was a labour of love. 

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Not only through Joseph and Mary’s obedience, nor Jesus’ impending delivery…

God labored to bring Advent about: the dream, the decision, the preparation, the effort & the teamwork within the Trinity- all designed to collide with humanity at the end of the road to Bethlehem.

God had every right to be weary of us. Selfish sinful flesh. Wanting our own way. Discontent until we could connect with our Creator, helpless to make the changes we needed in ourselves to make it happen.

So God decided to make it happen for us. To make the way for us.

The #AdventuresinAdvent are only part of the way to the big finale. 

I can only hope that like me, God is stirring up the desire to see His story, His gift to us all, in a fresh light. To be struck with the wonder awaiting us at the end of the road ahead.

census honeymoon

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. 

Luke 2:1-5

Poor Joseph. No sooner has Mary come back from visiting Elizabeth, the angel told him she was carrying the Messiah & to marry her, which he did, and they have just settled into their new home, than the government calls for a mandatory road trip.

In those days, a census meant you had to travel to your documented ancestral home…in Joseph’s case, Bethlehem, as he was of David’s lineage.

Not going was not an option. 

When the Romans said go, you had to go.  The good news? The Romans had built up the main roads, which likely cut back a bit on the rough terrain. The bad news? Mary was getting close to the end of her pregnancy.

But, duty called.

Not drawing any more attention to themselves than necessary, as they likely knew via the Spirit they would need to keep the coming Messiah safe, they prepared for the long journey.  Joseph would have had to finish his current carpentry jobs, maybe buy a donkey, and Mary prepare the food & bedding they would need.

Now by today’s standards, the distance between Nazareth & Bethlehem, approx. 102-147 kilometers (minimum 63.43 miles) could be driven in a few hours depending on the traffic & speed limit.

A pregnant woman on foot (or more likely donkey, as too much walking could bring on early childbirth, and Joseph seems like a kind man) would need to stop often to relieve herself, so we are guessing they didn’t walk more than 5-10km a day, meaning this was likely a 20-30 day trip.

Not necessarily the honeymoon expected for these newlyweds.

Sleeping outdoors, picnic food,¬†jostle jostle jostle, blisters, bad weather, rough terrain, bugs, potential bandits, traffic…. this was not a fun excursion.

I am sure they had a lot of time to talk about the miracle of John, the prophecies of the Messiah, and how on earth were they going to raise Him?

Its interesting to note that in this book, Luke refers to Mary still as Joseph’s fiancee.  Until the marriage bed is consummated, the marriage was in name only. I am sure Joseph would have felt too funny/uncomfortable about lying with Mary until after the Messiah
was born, which both birth accounts mention slightly differently.

So not only do we learn from these verses that Joseph was married to Mary, he was a caring (considering her physical wellbeing) and honorable man (following his duty) who likely was very concerned about the timing of this trip.

After all, traveling with a very pregnant woman could be filled with the unexpected. Especially one carrying such precious cargo!

To be honest, this narrative also shows me something I suspected earlier. 

The fact that Joseph brought Mary along demonstrates his great love for her. I think he would have missed her too much to leave her behind at home.

There would have been no shame in going on his own for the census.  I believe these two were spiritually knit together by their common experiences with the angel, and daily seeing the baby grow.  Not wanting to spend any time apart, they had already become a close team at this point.

God chose well.

Jesus was in good hands with both His earthly parents.

The #AdventuresinAdvent continue….

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