Summary: The streets of Bethlehem awash with blood! What happened to gentle Jesus, meek and mild? ...
O little Town of Bethlehem! How still we see thee lie!
No! Not today! Did you listen to today’s Gospel reading – there is blood running in the streets of Bethlehem, and mothers weeping for their dead children!
Yesterday, ’the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes’, but today there is crying a plenty and weeping loud for murder and mayhem are everywhere!
Welcome to the day after Christmas. Yesterday we may have been looking at peaceful images of the little town of Bethlehem on our Christmas cards, but that was yesterday. Today is the day after Christmas, a day traditionally known as ’Boxing Day’ or ’St Stephen’s Day’.
And what happened on ’St Stephen’s Day’ that we all remember. Well ... ’Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the feast of Stephen’. But what happened on the original St Stephen’s Day? Yes, that great leader of the early church, Stephen, was murdered! Stoned to death he was by a mob because he preached Jesus and because he refused to tow the party line about the Temple!
In the church’s calendar, the day after Christmas is associated with two significant events – one is the martyrdom of Stephen that we read about in Acts 7. The other is the terrible event we read about in our Gospel reading today – the ’murder of the innocents’, where King Herod orders the death of every baby boy in the town of Bethlehem two years old and under!
O little Town of Bethlehem, your streets awash with blood! Perhaps you find it hard to believe that any political leader could give such a macabre command – ordering the grizzly death of hundreds of tiny children. Perhaps you find it hard to believe that any group of soldiers would willingly carry out such an order. And yet, this scene is not really unfamiliar to us, even in the Bible.
You will remember, some time earlier in the Biblical story, another king who ordered the death of great numbers of children. He was Pharaoh, king of Egypt, in the time of Moses, attempting to consolidate his power by doing away with potential rivals, which translated into slaughtering great numbers of babies!
It’s a similar picture here – Herod, king of the Jews, is attempting to consolidate his power by doing away with a potential rival.The wise men have told him that a King has been born in Bethlehem, and Herod is determined to hang on to his power, and not knowing which baby is the baby Jesus, he decides to do away with Jesus by doing away with all the baby boys!
It is a grizzly scene, but by no means unfamiliar! When we look at history both before and since, we can find countless examples of ’great’ leaders who haven’t bawked at all when it comes to murdering the innocent if it means advancing their cause. And in our own recent history it’s not only the really notorious ones, such as Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin who have indulged their blood lust in the murder of innocent people.There are a goodly number of leaders in power at the moment who have been directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children!
O little Town of Bethlehem!
When I look at Bethlehem today, it all starts to look very familiar. If you receive my newsletter, you would have already read this month the article about the mass exodus of Christians from Bethlehem.They claim that it’s just too violent now to live there!
The Christian Mayor of Bethlehem, a man by the name of Hanner Nasir, said that, “Living under occupation is certainly the most painful experience man can face and the biggest offence to human rights and dignity.We each day have to swallow the bitterness of the government practices: killing of our people, demolition of houses, arrest and humiliation.”
It is a familiar picture.In the background, powerful men are making sure that they hang on to their power. In the foreground, little children are killed.
O little Town of Bethlehem! I’ve got a new version of the song here, created by a group called "Jews for Justice for Palestinians”
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
A wall is laid where tourists stayed,
And tanks go rolling by.
And in thy dark streets shineth
No cheerful Christmas light;
The grief and fears of three sad years
Are met in thee tonight.
’Oh Dave’, I hear you saying, ’this isn’t much of a Christmas message, is it?’ Well, if Christmas is all about tinsel and Santa and sentimentality then ’no’, this isn’t much of a Christmas message. But it’s very much a part of the way the Bible presents the Christmas story.
Our popular version of the Christmas story ends frozen at the Nativity scene - with Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger, surrounded by Shepherds. That’s where the popular version of Christmas ends. The Biblical account goes straight on! As the shepherds leave, the Wise Men start out for Bethlehem, and no sooner have the wise men left than Herod screams out his diabolical order!