Oh Little Town of Bethlehem - December 2015

“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6–7).

 

    This month we are in a time traditionally associated with the celebration of the birth of Christ. While we know that this is not actually the time when Jesus was most likely born, this season provides a good opportunity to contemplate the reality of an impossible gift. That the king of the universe should have interest in this puny little rebellious planet is, in and of itself, a marvel. But that He would leave His throne, be infinitely diminished (Philippians 2 calls it emptying Himself), be incarnate into a human embryo, and be born into a world that would ultimately kill Him because they wanted a different king, is the most profound example of love that will ever be seen. 

    This month I would invite you to meditate with me on the story of the birth of Christ in a slightly different way. In the story of Christ’s birth we have many different types of characters who represent by their categories the ways in which we can respond to the reality of Christ in our lives. 

    First let us meditate on the ones who reject Christ. We all know the actions of the evil king Herod, a man so bent on keeping his own power and preserving his own status that he was willing to execute an entire city full of babies to get rid of a potential threat to his throne. While we are not Herod, there is a Herod mentality towards Christ that sees Jesus as a threat because He cannot be controlled and has ultimately come as a much greater King. Herod represents a type of person who is willing to do away with the Messiah in the interest of preserving their own status, public image and power. This mindset does not mind publicly declaring interest in “worshiping” this new king but in their hearts they know that He would represent the end of their own personal quest for power and so work to undermine and destroy Him. Then there are the soldiers. People just following orders, who have delegated their consciences to the decisions of others. What they are doing is wrong and they may even know it, but they are more afraid of the earthly kings than the heavenly One. They do not reject Christ because of any personal animosity on their own part but rather because to accept Christ would mean incurring the ire of those earthly people that they most feel the need to impress. 

    Then there are those who accept the Messiah with joy. There are the shepherds. People who have nothing to lose and everything to gain because they are already puny peons on society’s totem pole. Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to them. As soon as the divine message has touched their hearts they gladly leave the stinking sheep to go in search of the Savior in the stable. Then there are the Magi. Those rare people of wisdom, who leave their lucrative lives at the top of society’s ladder to spend months and years in search of an elusive peasant King in order to lay their treasures at His feet. 

    As we look at each of these characters we may see in them reflections of people we know or even ourselves. However, we have missed a major group, they are by far the largest group in the nativity story as they are in our time as well. This group is comprised of the innkeepers, their guests, and all the citizens of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. These people bear no animosity towards the new king. Their attitude is best characterized by indifference. They are not overtly evil people like King Herod, rather they are so absorbed in their own “important” lives that they do not realize that the King of the universe was turned out of their house tonight. Without any ill will they have relegated Him to the stable with the things that no one wants to think about. Their reasons for rejecting the Messiah extend no farther than the fact that they are too busy, their lives are too full, there is too much going on right now. All too often, though I would never dream of being a Herod, I unintentionally become an innkeeper, so busy taking care of life (my own and others’) that there is no longer any room in my inn for my Savior. “I’m so sorry but I’m just full today, if you can’t find anywhere else you can stay in the cave out back.” 

    Today and this month, let us contemplate who we want to be. The only difference between Herod, the soldiers, the innkeeper, or the wise men and shepherds was a choice in priorities. What place does Jesus have in my heart today? Please join me in answering this question every day.