"And it came about that while they were there (Bethlehem), the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first born son, and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 1:6-7
I still love Christmas carols, and I am a fan of singing them more than one time of year. Two of my childhood favorites remain close to my heart today. "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Away in a Manger."
Phillips Brooks, 19th Century American pastor and poet, penned the words to "O Little Town of Bethlehem" on a trip to the Holy Land. They still have no peer. "Yet in thy dark street shineth, the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." "Away in the Manger" was a song that I sang at my oldest daughter's bedside when she was tiny. Night after night, I would kneel by her bed and sing a medley of essential tunes that would calm her heart and ease her into a restful sleep. I guess I should tell you the order of worship was, "Itsy Bitsy Spider" followed by "Jesus Loves Me" and a finale of "Away in a Manger." Today is her birthday. It is early in the morning, and she is asleep on the couch, while I am typing this in the dark. Lots of memories flooding out of my eyes. Got to stay focused.
Recently, Dana and I visited Hot Springs, Arkansas. Along with another city in the state, there was a sign alerting us of the their proud status as the hometown of one of their favorite sons. This city was thrown under the bus a few years ago, when sonny was being introduced to the nation as a potential president. I guess the campaign bio, "A Man from Hope" had a better ring to it for Middle America than, "Some Like it Hot." Focus. Focus.
Bethlehem, The City of David, was proud of its legacy as the birthplace of Israel's greatest king. David, the warrrior-poet, and father of King Solomon, was still revered and honored by the inhabitants, and those who claimed to be his descendants. Nothing made them prouder, except the prophecy that proclaimed this city would have the honor of birthing The Messiah. He would be the champion that would push the Roman invaders into the sea, and restore the Kingdom of Israel to prominence and prosperity once again. In Psalms 132: 11, God promised David that the fruit of his body would rule over Israel. Bethlehem would be the root for the fruit. "But as for you, Bethlehem...from you One will go forth for Me to be the ruler of Israel." (Micah 5:2)
Bethlehem literally means "house of bread." Jesus referred to Himself as "The Bread of Life." This is not a coincidence, but reveals God's attention to detail. The Word of God is a gold mine of truth, and there are nuggets waiting on the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to pick them up. Don't step over dollar bills to pick up nickels. Here's what I mean.
Every year it seems some pageant or cantata author has to reveal some obscure drop of insight they have squeezed out of a reservoir of Scripture overflowing with truth. A brief statement, "Because there was no room for them in the inn.", becomes a launching pad for an overactive imagination. The obvious message of the Christmas story is then hijacked by a dramatic presentation that speculates about the life of an imaginary inn keeper, or a poor shepherd boy, or even a donkey. More focus is given the imaginary than the real. Before the secularists get hammered into submission to put Christ back into Christmas, shouldn't the church take the lead?
One year, a Cecil B. Demille wannabe came to me almost hyperventilated with a script based on the "truth" they had just been "given by God." They were convinced the donkey that carried Mary into Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus was the same one that He rode when he entered Jerusalem, on the day of His triumphal entry. My response was, "What does the Bible say?" You see, the Bible never says Mary rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is sheer conjecture. She apparently walked like everyone else. This may explain why people arrived at the "Holiday Inn" before she did, and "there was no room for them in the inn." After the Scripture search did not validate what they had written, they were crestfallen. I didn't try to rub it in, but I did have to ask, "What's the life expectancy of a donkey anyway? At 33 years of age, would it be in shape to carry a grown man, or would it need to be dragged into town." Yeah. Your right. That was rubbing it in. I was younger then, and I wouldn't do it again. Note: Read God's script. No rewrites will be needed.
It's Sunday, and time for church, so let me wrap this up. The story of a baby cradled in a feeding trough and wrapped in torn cloth is inspiring. However, the manger was never meant to be the main point. The cradle was always in the shadow of the cross. The Christmas carol, "Away in a Manger," needs to be followed up by the old Christian hymn, "At Calvary." Jesus is more than a favorite son of Bethlehem. He is the Savior of the world. God intended for His Son to be born in the city of David, but He never commanded His people to celebrate His Son's birth. They were commissioned to keep the main thing, the main thing, and tell the world about the love of God given to them through Jesus. Putting Christ back into Christmas means getting Jesus out of the manger, onto the cross, out of the tomb and into our hearts. This year celebrate the real Christmas story with a focus on His death, burial and resurrection. HO! HO! HO! HOSANNA!