Links Daily Devotional

Where Jesus Is

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. (Luke 2:4-5, NIV)

In the hours that frame the weekend before us, someone will start the song:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by…

Quaint, certainly. And if all you have to go on is the long line of Christmas movies produced in our lifetimes, you could be convinced that Bethlehem remains the same all these centuries later.

I was in Bethlehem three weeks ago. The drive from Jerusalem down to the old shepherds’ town is serpentine and harried. This is no temple traffic, however—the throngs of people on camels and donkeys moving to and from Passover or the Feast of Trumpets. Rather, there are cabs and buses and trucks. The streets are lined with concrete-block buildings. And, eventually, the buildings get set behind barb-topped walls and guarded fences. The Bethlehem of today lies in the Arab-governed West Bank, isolated from the easier flow of the nation around it.

The city itself carries no different bearing than the rundown neighborhoods of Detroit or Mexico City. The signage is haphazard, the seemingly familiar green and white of Stars & Bucks Café (no kidding!) brushing up against walls plastered with long, brash statements about the Palestinian condition and the need for the world (emphasis on the United States) to come to their aid. Power lines scatter from corner posts, reaching in all directions, like too many legs on a spider. The streets here, too, are gridlocked, a mishmash of compact sedans and buses for both tourists and residents—not much in-between.

More so than in most Arab parts of the Middle East, Bethlehem is a “Christian” town. But it’s an uneasy life, permitted mostly because all in Bethlehem are desperate for tourism’s dollars, though also because Muslims revere the birthplace of Jesus, too. Still the Christianity is staid, the formality added to by the Church of the Nativity, a sixth century structure wherein, tradition dictates, you’ll find the precise location of Jesus’ birth. But even these walls are crumbling, the 200-year-old roof allowing rainwater to penetrate and compromise the construction.

Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how sad you are today! When Phillips Brooks wrote his Christmas hymn in 1868, he continued the words above with these:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light…

By “yet,” he meant that in spite of Bethlehem’s humble state, the Savior would come to this place. Now by “yet” we might mean that still now, two millennia later, when Bethlehem’s streets seem dark in a whole other way, Jesus is there. Indeed, one of our greatest hopes in Christ is that He is able to visit, able to reside, in places just like today’s Bethlehem, places aching and dying for love—places, by the way, just like our heart. Into these places, Everlasting Light, come shine!

Jeff Hopper

December 23, 2011

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