OCCUPYING BETHLEHEM (WITH LOVE)
One of the things for which this year will be remembered is the power of occupation.
The power of letting your presence be known and your existence be felt.
Beginning last January, Time magazine details 27 different points of occupation around the world: In places like Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and others people gathered to occupying public places to let their presence be declared.
In September the occupy movement began when a bunch of common people camped out in a small park between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site. News of the event first spread via Twitter posts. Their method was to occupy a space therefore letting their presence be known.
It is not a new strategy.
2000 years ago the power of occupation was demonstrated through the birth of a child.
John 1:14 a
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us NIV
So the Word became human and made his home among us. NLT
The Word became flesh, and lived among us. HNV
Christmas is the story of God’s occupation, not in protest nor defiance, but the occupation of love into this very real world where we live all year long
It was an interesting tale about a bunch of common people camped out in a stable, central among them was a newborn child. Majesty taking occupation in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure. Divinity enters and occupies the world on the floor of a stable through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.
The news of this occupation traveled by the voice of angel’s song and shepherd’s tales.
His motive was not out of frustration nor was his heart demanding.
Rather, his motivation was compassion and His heart was gracious as love took occupation beginning in Bethlehem.
THAT is the wonder and amazement of Christmas.
It is the fulfillment of the prophecy:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 NIV
He was not among the 99%. Instead, He was God’s only begotten one…His one and only.
He came for the 100% of our population.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
I believed in the power of occupation.
There is understanding in occupation. (not just knowledge)
• Ten years ago, in a suburb of Rochester, New York, Peter Lovenheim was out walking his dog. He was surprised to see a TV news truck parked down the block. What was going on?
As it turned out, a horrible tragic death had occurred new to where he lived. Lovenheim was shocked — not only by these violent deaths but by how little true community existed in his suburban neighborhood. He knew the family only slightly.
Soon a “For Sale” sign appeared in front of the house. The family vanished and the impact on the neighborhood was slight. He asked himself, “How could that be? Did I live in a community or just in a house on a street surrounded by people whose lives were entirely separate?”
Good question. Do we live in communities or in collections of isolated houses? To find an answer, Lovenheim did what any normal American suburb-dweller would do: He asked his neighbors if he could sleep at their houses.
Yes, that’s right. He requested that he be able to spend the night with them, to get to know them better. Although his daughter yelled, “Dad, you’re crazy,” a surprising number of neighbors agreed to his request. And the result, reports Jennifer Howard in the Washington Post (April 18, 2010), is the book In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.
As kids it is a common experience to go and spend the night at a friend’s house. Consequently, occupying their home gives you a much clearer understanding of their lives because you see their “true colors.”
Jesus did not come to be a guest, but to take up residence with us, but to embark on the long journey from infancy to toddler to young child, to adolescence and eventually to adulthood.
He came to share a relationship that is impossible if you keep some kind of respectable distance.
You REALLY get to know people when you take up residence with them.
How many great friendships have been put to the test and some failed when they tried to share an apartment or a dorm room.
• When I was about 13 with a 15 year old sister, a 17 year old sister, and a 9 year old brother, my grandfather came to live with us.
As I remember those times, I think o the adjustment it was for us kids.
As I reflect, I think about the challenge that adjustment was for him.
In a world full of indirect and impersonal and second hand communication, there is nothing as meaningful as presence.
• In the latter years of the reign of King Hussein of Jordan, a terrible tragedy occurred. Two Israeli schoolgirls were playing in a park called the “Island of Peace,” located in the middle of the Jordan River, right on the border between the two countries. While the girls were playing, a Jordanian soldier shot them dead for no apparent reason. The news media flashed the story around the world with lightning speed. For a short while, it seemed that the fragile peace between Israel and Jordan could be broken. But then it became clear that the soldier was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness and that he’d acted with no authorization from anyone. Apologies were made and accepted in diplomatic circles, and the world breathed easier.
The story could well have ended there, were it not for King Hussein. Hearing what one of his soldiers had done, the king left his palace, left even his own country and traveled to the humble homes of the families of the two slain Israeli girls. Entering each house in turn, King Hussein — who was used to having people bow before him — fell down on his knees. He bowed before the grieving parents. Then he looked up into their eyes and said, “I beg you, forgive me, forgive me. Your daughter is like my daughter, your loss is my loss. May God help you to bear your pain.” Nothing in the annals of diplomatic protocol suggested that a king needed to humble himself like that. Ironically, a Muslim king gave the world, that day, a glimpse of how a truly Christlike king might behave.
At Bethlehem God decided to do what no one ever expected a divine being to do: come personally to where we live.
God wants to move in with us so we can better understand each other.
There is power in the occupation
There is a power in presence that nothing else can replace.
The military can do a lot of things, but when they talk about boots on the ground they mean a physical presence.
Some of you will call, text, or even video your loved ones today. But you would quickly trade that for the opportunity to look into their eyes, holding their hands, sharing a hug, as you hear their voice, to be in their presence.
• In 1868 an author named Bret Harte published a short story about a town of gold prospects in the Wild West, called “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” Roaring Camp was the meanest, toughest, Mining Town in the entire West. There were more murders and thefts than any other place around. Roaring Camp was inhabited entirely by men … except for one woman named Sal.
Eventually, Sal became pregnant and gave birth to baby. She died in childbirth. The men put the baby in a box with some old rags. Somehow that just didn’t seem right, so one of the men rode 80 miles on a mule to Sacremento to buy a Rosewood Cradle.
Meanwhile they cleaned up and fixed up cabin where the baby was living. Those big, tough men got down on their hands and knees and scrubbed the floor until it was spotless. Of course, then the walls and the ceiling … and the dirty windows looked awful. So they washed down the walls and the ceiling, whitewashed the outside, and they even hung some clean white curtains on the windows.
When that beautiful new cradle arrived, well it just sorta killed all the other worn out furniture in that cabin, so it got replaced too with something more respectable. A new carpet and mirror was ordered from the General Store. They began planting flowers and shrubs around the outside.
A rule was implemented that you had to clean up if you wanted to see and/or hold the baby. So they began to wash their clothes more regularly, bath more and shave more.
Things were beginning to look a lot better. But they soon realized they had to give up their carousing and fighting. After all, the baby needed a lot of sleep, and babies can’t sleep during a brawl. Besides all that, the baby didn’t like angry voices or frowning faces. So the men started smiling and talking in pleasant, cheerful tones. Profanity ceased. And often the baby was placed down by the stream where the men panned for gold.
The occupation of a baby…the power of his presence changed everything.
What a difference the occupation of a baby makes! Has the Bethlehem Baby changed your life?
What began then - begins again right now when Jesus and His love occupies us. When Jesus occupies US, then all the love of Christmas is ours.
The Bible opens with a picture of God who occupies His creation, walking among His people in the garden He created.
Jesus promised for His followers an eternity characterized by His presence:
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:3 NIV
Invite Him to occupy your life.
He’s not just passing thought to make a point and move on.
We said last week:
He became what we are so we could become what He is.
He came to where we are so we could go us to where He is.
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he’s not born in thee Thy soul is all forlorn.
He occupied Bethlehem so that He could occupy us.
That night in all of Heaven there wasn't a sound
As God and the angels watched the Earth.
For there, in a stable the Father's only Son
Chose to give Himself through human birth.
And when the cry of a baby pierced the universe
Once for all, men were shown their worth.
O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.