Summary: There are “Bethlehems” in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Georgia, and even Texas. In fact, I located twenty-eight towns named Bethlehem around the globe and in the United States. They have streets named Manger Avenue and Shepherd Street. But Bethlehem hasn’t always been so prominent …
Thank you for being a part of one of three Christmas Eve services tonight. If we could travel anywhere in the world tonight to celebrate Christmas Eve, where would you want to go? Many of us might choose the house we grew up in celebrating many wonderful Christmas family celebrations. Others may choose to go to your home right now because of the warmth of family and friends. But I think a few of you would want to travel to Bethlehem. Because it’s there in Bethlehem that the Savior is born.
Now, the little town of Bethlehem has ben the subject of countless Christmas carols and Nativity plays. If you visit the little town from Israel, you’ll need to pass through a secure security check because you are moving out of Israel and into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Now, when you are in and around the town, you can see the outskirts of Jerusalem and Israel just across the ravine. A big wall separates the two and you can often see graffiti all over the white, tall walls as near the Palestinian side of the security check.
If you visit the Church of the Nativity as most Christian pilgrims do, you’ll likely wait in a serpentine line to descend the steps of the purported place of Christ’s birth. A reported 1.5 million people will visit the small town this year. It was there my family of five visited for the first time in 2015. We understood that three different denominations control the church: the Armenians, the Greeks, and the Roman Catholics. You will descend a narrow set of steps to visit the purported place of Jesus’ birth – they even have a star in the ground that marks the spot. Across from it, you’ll see a place where the animals were located that evening.
The Church of the Nativity was built over a cave which Helena, mother of Constantine, believed to be the site where Christ was born in AD 335. According to Hieronymus, a Christian scholar of the 4th century, the cult of Adonis (god of fertility” was practiced in the time of the Romans near the cave where Jesus was born. Whenever the Romans placed a cult place of worship, we know they probably did it to erase any thought of Christianity. In some ways, it helps historians know where the local Christians would have worshipped following Jesus’ birth.
You can even go to the outskirts of the town to visit the Shepherd’s Fields where you can sing Christmas carols such as “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The people of Bethlehem are so kind and hospital that you will never forget you’re visit to place of Jesus’ birth.
Now, the name of Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” Bethlehem is living proof that indeed big things do come in small packages.
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:1–6).
“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; 6 they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances; and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border” (Micah 5:1–6).