In Bethlehem

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Listen to this devotional:

Luke 2:16-18 – So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (NIV)

As we approach Christmas in our town this year, we will all be looking for the roadside nativity scene set up at the main intersection. There will be Mary and Joseph, of course, and even some camels standing nearby. There will be the baby Jesus lying serenely in the manger, and some shepherds. This is what we expect of Bethlehem. One year, though, someone drove into the scene and demolished the manger and the camels. We were all shocked and saddened. Did someone do it on purpose?

What did the manger look like when the shepherds visited long ago? What was Bethlehem like back then? A friend and I were recently in Bethlehem, and I admit to being disappointed. The bus trip there was long; we had just finished climbing the many steps up the Via Delarosa in Jerusalem; and I was exhausted. Now, here we were, driving over the border into the Palestinian sector, going to Bethlehem. Ah! Bethlehem! But nothing caught my attention. We just passed some old buildings on the way to the restaurant where we were to have supper — but where was the manger? Where were the shepherds? What was I doing here in the present, when I really wanted to see the original? Which year was I in? I was confused and sad.

Thousands of years have passed between the nativity event and the present. In my imagination, I am very limited. Yes, the word "Bethlehem" was spelt the same. Yes, the place was here, but was this really it? Some talk about another Bethlehem further out. I searched deep in my soul and asked God, "Why did You choose this place for Your wonderful event on that first Christmas, when the little Baby came to earth? It's such a wonderful event — what place would angels hold today? Did it really happen — here in Bethlehem long ago?"

Faith is needed to believe all the facets of the Christian story. God came here! Wow! But it was 2000 years ago! Much has happened since then, as Jesus, over the years, has made His way into the hearts of men, women, and children the world over. That's where I need to look for Him, not in this ancient village. And yes, I do find Him — right here in my own soul. I can't live without Him today — born anew in my heart when I was twelve years old in Bermuda. On that day, I accepted Him into my life, and I have not gone a day without His presence with me since.

Do you know what I mean? Is He also in your heart today and every day? Yes? Praise God! No? Wait — If we take a moment and look, He does not dwell in some readers' hearts. If this is your empty heart, you will be feeling lost today. But friend, all you need to do is ask Him to forgive you for ignoring or denying Him all these years while you went along your own road without Him. He is so sad there, all alone in that ancient village of Bethlehem. The nativity story is wonderful, but what Jesus really wants is to be born in your heart and mine. Please let Him in.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are sad today, for Christmas for many seems empty. Yes, family and friends are around, but we have put so much emphasis on the ancient nativity without placing the location of Jesus' coming to earth where it makes the most difference — in our hearts. Lord, we apologize, and we invite Jesus now to come into our hearts. We kneel before You and adore. Amen.

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Iris Ford

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