December 24, 2006
Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…
Bethlehem, in the region of Ephratha. From you will come forth a ruler over all Israel, with ancient origins. A strong and good shepherd who will bring security and peace. You, the little town of Bethlehem.
You, oh Bethlehem, whose name means, “House of Bread”. From you will come the One who will feed his people with everlasting spiritual bread – mana from Heaven. He, who will also give his own body in the bread of a Holy Sacrament.
You, Oh Bethlehem, the little town where David was born. Little David the shepherd boy, who became great King David, ruler of Israel in its heyday. From you, Oh Bethlehem, will come the Son of David, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. And David’s Son will be David’s Lord.
They will welcome him with shouts and palm branches and fanfare as a king, when he comes to Jerusalem. They will cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. But then they will shout, “Crucify!”. And when the Roman ruler asks if the Son of David is truly a king, he will hear, “my kingdom is not of this world”. And when that same ruler sentences the king of heaven to die on a cross, he will post the notice, “This is the king of the Jews”.
Oh Bethlehem, oh little town of Bethlehem. You who are a shepherding town, where sheep and shepherds are born. When David was born in your midst, he was raised a shepherd boy. He even fended off a lion defending the lambs of his flock. But from you, Bethlehem, will come the great Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd who defeats our roaring adversary the Lion, by laying down his life for the sheep.
From you, oh Bethlehem, where lambs are born and raised for the sacrifices, and only the perfect yearlings are led to the temple slaughter. From you will come the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Perfect and without blemish, the once and for all sacrifice to whom all sacrifices pointed forward, and in whom all sacrifices found their power and meaning. From you will come the Great High Priest who offers himself as that sacrifice, and still intercedes for us.
Oh Bethlehem, you who are a small and insignificant town, your honor is made great by the one who was born in your midst. Just as many were surprised that anything good could come from Nazareth. Who but the prophet would predict that you, oh Bethlehem, would bring forth such a ruler?
For the Lord makes low the mighty, but he exalts the humble. He regards the humble state of his servant Mary, so that all generations would call her blessed. He calls poor fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. He shames the wise things of this world and glorifies the foolish. He turns weeping to joy, sin into righteousness, and death into life.
Oh Bethlehem, Oh little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds still watched over their flocks by night, in your outskirts the song of angels would be heard. As those lowly shepherds went about their everyday business, they would hear the sweetest, most glorious, most important news yet uttered by the lips of angels, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord”. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men on whom his favor rests”.
Oh Bethlehem, did you know that song of the angels echoes even today when Christians gather for worship? God’s glory is still being made manifest, and his peace is still on earth. His favor still rests with men because of the same savior, Christ the Lord. Messengers, now human but not angelic, still tell of his birth, his life, death, resurrection, reign and return. And at this message, this news, his people still wonder.
Oh little town of Bethlehem, in the song and on the Christmas cards, how still we see thee lie… but your peace would be broken when King Herod sent soldiers to kill infants. As he slaughtered your young ones, O Bethlehem, your mothers wept. Herod’s wise men knew the words of prophet Micah. The chief priests and scribes knew, that you, O Bethlehem, would be the town to bring forth the Christ, and yet their wisdom abetted the evil king to do this wicked thing.
Meanwhile, faithful wise men, kings perhaps, brought 3 gifts of honor, to the newborn king. Following the star to you, and to the True Light and Morning star in your midst, they brought not only gifts but also worship and honor. They stood for all the nations who would one day find hope and peace in the babe of Bethlehem.
Oh Bethlehem, when we see you today, like in the days of Herod’s massacre, we find little peace. You are in a land torn apart by religious warfare. Your holy shrines have even become a haven for armed men.
But are you surprised, oh Bethlehem? For you are, yet, like any human town, full of human sinners. Anywhere we humans gather, sin gathers. Towns and cities like Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem, Rome, Berlin, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, and even Racine, Wisconsin, all are filled with sinners living together, living in an outward peace but never entirely peacefully lying.
We may not be shooting each other, but we are caught up, too often, in our own little worlds. We forget the one born and laid in a manger, and think only of the one we see in the mirror. We live for things that don’t matter, stress over things that will surely pass away, and ignore things eternal. We pay no heed to the angelic news that a savior is born to us, and we fail to wonder at what we have seen and heard, or treasure these things in our hearts.
Except when Racine comes to Bethlehem, and when we, like the shepherds, come to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about”. For there we find peace, hope, joy, love, forgiveness, life, righteousness, innocence, blessedness, and the Good News that heaven has been opened, God is now dwelling with man, and on us his favor rests.
Some come, all ye faithful, come to the little town of Bethlehem.
Oh come and adore him:
Born the King of angels,
Highest, Most holy,
Light of light eternal,
Son of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing,
Christ the Lord.
Sing, you citizens of heav’n above. Sing you citizens of Racine, below. For born to you this day in the city of David is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Alleluia. Amen.