Summary: This is a Christmas theme emphasizing God’s wisdom and purpose in choosing Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus and lessons for us.
Charles W. Holt
Scripture reading: Luke 2:1-7
Of all the cities, towns and villages in Palestine why did the Lord God choose such an unheard-of hamlet as Bethlehem for the birth of the greatest figure ever to enter into human history? If a site selection committee had been appointed, the name of Bethlehem probably would have never made the list. There are all kinds of important reasons to favor another location.
The city of Hebron, for example, played an important role in the beginning of Hebrew history. In the Old Testament record its name occurs 73 times. Why not again? If our mythical site selection committee could meet Hebron’s Chamber of Commerce they would hear how Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and later David were associated with this town. So why not a brief mention or two in the New Testament, this time for the heir to the throne of the great king David. It would be a smart selection.
On the other hand, Jerusalem is an even more logical choice. Six hundred eleven times the city is mentioned in the Old Testament. For centuries, from the day David captured it from the Jebusites to make it his city, Jerusalem was the center of religious and civil life in Israel. The magnificent temple of Solomon was there. The royal palace too. Our site selection committee would be hard pressed to find reasons to deny Jerusalem the privilege of welcoming the new king. But Jerusalem fails to make the cut.
Nazareth comes to mind. Why not Nazareth? This is a logical favorite because it is the home of Mary and Joseph. It offers the most in convenience. Life can go on as usual for Joseph, Mary and Jesus surrounded by relatives and good neighbors. There would be no interruption in the daily flow of activity. In view of the impending birth of Mary’s baby it could save days of travel at this most inappropriate time.
God could have chosen the imperial and political Rome or cultural and intellectual Athens. He didn’t. Nor did he choose Hebron or Jerusalem or Nazareth. But why Bethlehem? By the ancient Prophet’s own words Bethlehem "was small among the clans of Judah" (Micah 5:2 NIV). Or, as Matthew records, "least among the rulers of Judah" (Mt. 6:2 NIV).
For whatever the reasons, Bethlehem never rose to a position of prominence in its entire history. Bethlehem was never the theater of any action or business. There are, however, two events which stand out in its history and either one of them could have propelled it into a place of lasting glory and honor. After all, it was here that Israel’s great and ideal king, poet, and hero drew his first breath and grew up. Before that, a most beautiful love story, set within its environs, was lived out. It is the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz recorded in the Book of Ruth. Still, through the passing years and centuries, it remained an ordinary Judean village like scores of others.
This much can be said for it. Fertile fields that yielded fruit and grain surrounded the hamlet. The water was sweet to the taste. It was located on one of the main roads that meant visitors and trade would pass through. Its excellent location attracted the attention of the Philistines who, once in its history, made it a military outpost and kept one of their garrison’s there.
Although it was not named a Levitical city, it was apparently a residence of Levites because the young Jonathan, son of Gershom, lived there. He became the first priest of the Danites at their new northern settlement (Judges 17:7; 28:30). Any of these people and the events surrounding their lives could have elevated Bethlehem or "put it on the map." Instead, people came and went. People lived and died. It experienced the ebb and flow or seedtime and harvest of scores of other nondescript places as the years passed. Bethlehem was . . . well . . . THERE.
This notion of obscurity is captured by a verse from one of the favorite songs sung during the Christmas season.
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above the deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
Bethlehem’s beginning dates back into the dim past of history. It had lain still in a "deep and dreamless sleep" for nearly two thousand years before shepherds came to seek a babe lying in a manger or Magi from the east were led by a star and bowed to the new king. Why stir it from its slumber now? I want to suggest at least two reasons: