Summary: You can know the joy of being a blessing to others...people who are really hurting...desperately longing to know that their lives have some meaning and purpose. The journey to Bethlehem can set you free.
"THE JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM"
Christmas is the time of the year when so many people travel all over the country to visit with friends and family. There is something about the holidays that just seems to be missing without the presence of family.
But there are also multitudes of travelers heading for other destinations. People from all over the world are arriving each day in the ancient village of Bethlehem. There, over 1900 years ago, a baby was born who was called Jesus.
In this little village groups of people will gather together to listen to a pastor or a leader read the old, familiar story from Luke’s Gospel.
Also this time of year you can often hear them singing a song written by an American pastor who visited Bethlehem. Phillips Brooks was so touched and deeply moved that he went home and wrote the familiar carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
The story of the journey to Bethlehem made by Mary and Joseph is a familiar one to young and old alike. But this morning I’d like to look at another journey to Bethlehem that took place long before that one we’re so accustomed to hearing about during this time of year.
It is in the 16th chapter of 1 Samuel that we hear the word given to Samuel: "Go to Bethlehem." Bethlehem was a small town, yet a notable place because from there we find some people very close to the heart of God.
It is the setting for the Book of Ruth. Ruth was the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. And you remember, of course that Jesus was traced back to this family line.
That’s why Joseph had to go there for the census.
Let’s take a look at this journey to Bethlehem.
READ 16:1 13
The first thing we see here is that the journey began with a question.
The story begins with God taking action, getting involved in the affairs of his people. God is a God of action, and I think this is at the very heart of the true meaning of Christmas.
And the greatest single verse of the N.T. which summarizes the real meaning of Christmas is John 1:14..."The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
Christmas is the story of a God who communicates with us...He came to earth in the form of a man...Emanuel God with us...He came to give us the Good News...He communicates to us what will give us life...and make that life one of joy and obedience...
Here God communicates with Samuel, but at the outset it seems like something much different than good news. The Lord said to him, "How long will you mourn for Saul."
That’s quite an interesting question..."How long will you mourn...or grieve?" Samuel was the one who anointed Saul as king...and even though it was a rocky relationship at times, Samuel prayed and prayed for Saul.
Saul blew it as king and Samuel had to confront him about it and tell him that it was over. Saul deserved the judgment that fell on him but still Samuel mourned for him.
But now God says, How long will you continue to go on like this? I know you are brokenhearted over what has happened to Saul. I know it is difficult for you to get over the shock of this tragic situation.
But enough is enough. It’s time to get on with life. There is still much that needs to be done, and Saul is no longer going to be part of it. But what’s done is done.
Now, God never condemns our sorrow. We must understand that. In fact, God Himself grieves over the loss much like we do.
In the N.T. we have the unforgettable picture of Jesus standing beside the tomb of a friend weeping. Grief is a natural emotion, and even a necessary one...because unless we go through the grieving process we’ll never enter the healing process that follows.
God never condemns our sorrow...but He does raise questions about timing. He simply asks, "How long will you grieve over that broken relationship...that loved one who has passed away...that marriage that was broken...How long will you grieve over things you have no control over??? It’s time to move on!
How long is too long? Each situation is different, and there is no set time frame. But prolonged grief can be a form of self punishment. We put ourselves through tremendous pain by trying to relive events and situations and think of what could have been or should have been.
No doubt Samuel felt a tremendous sense of responsibility and grief over Saul. Samuel played an important part in his life. And look at the potential he had. He was the tallest, the most handsome, certainly the best prospect in all Israel for a king.