Did anyone notice how fast the first week of Advent ran into the second week of Advent? I’m even a day later than I intended in getting this posted. And that, in very succinct point, is one of the more obvious reasons for Advent. That’s why we need it, as this season seems to have a time factor all of its own when—but for the very young—the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to travel at warp speed! The observation of Advent at least reminds us of that pace, and it forces us, if only for a moment or few each day, to embrace the reality of just how impending indeed is the approach of December 25th. As two candles are now burning we take our first steps into the second week of the season known as Advent, a season that both remembers and anticipates the coming of Christ into our world.
The second candle is called the “Bethlehem Candle”. You may not have known that, but you certainly know about Bethlehem, famous for being the birthplace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Bethlehem literally means “House of Bread”—and that is a fitting tie-in to at least a part of the Lord’s Supper we share weekly. The town of Bethlehem is spoken of in the gospels as the “city of David”. You can almost imagine, as you drive toward the town, looking up and seeing emblazoned on the side of their water tower, “Bethlehem: Hometown of King David.” And you could probably get the t-shirt to prove it! We can also learn a bit about this town in the words of the prophet Micah, who foretold, “…as for you, Bethlehem, little Bethlehem, too little to even be counted among the clans of Judah—from YOU One will go forth for ME to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Writing some 7 centuries before the event, Micah has some inside information; but you have to wonder if even he knew or cared all that much about the day to day doings of Bethlehem.We, these 2000-something years later, see Bethlehem pictured on Christmas cards, we sing about it in carols, we even see it in the news—Bethlehem being very near the focal point of religious tectonics, near the center of the triangle whose points are Christianity, Judaism, Islam. There’s a little tension there from time to time! Bethlehem is famous to us—but it hasn’t always been so.
We get the hint from Micah’s prophecy that Bethlehem was tiny, off the beaten path, obscure and insignificant, even perhaps denigrated, as a hic-filled berg with very little to commend it. (Not exactly the bumper sticker you want if you’re part of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce! “Bethlehem: The Town With Nothin’ You Want!”). Not really golden in PR terms, is it? But just like you have no idea what went on in Lazbuddie last week, unless you lived in Lazbuddie last week, probably nobody much in Palestine likely knew or cared what happened in Bethlehem. But that’s just how it was, and back in the time of Jesus, you would never have expected to find there anything all that impressive. But we in hindsight know that something VERY impressive happened there, and we know that something VERY good came from that little town—much more than people would ever have expected! That’s the way God works sometimes; you just have to look a bit closer to see the details of His handiwork, to find His fingerprints all over the flow of history.
Maybe Micah’s words should set the tone for us today as we remember Jesus; of this Bethlehem-delivered Deliverer he said, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Little town, yes. Big stuff happening there! Let that verse sink in: “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” That reminds me of a verse in Revelation similar in both scope and intrigue; in it we are told that Jesus the Lamb was “slain before the foundations of the world.” Yes, that’s a sudden turn, I know, and it takes us from the manger and plants us squarely in front of the cross. It reminds us that just as certainly as God planned to arrive as a baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, he also planned, uncounted and uncountable eons before that, to die on a cross 33 years later, to pay for our sins with His blood. In Arabic, I’m told, Bethlehem means “house of flesh.” So we see as this second week of Advent begins a full circle: In Bethlehem God became flesh and blood, then ultimately on a hill not so far away from there, He gave His flesh and blood that we might live. As you consider gifts this Christmas season, don’t miss that one! It’s pretty incredible, as gifts go…
As Advent grows, let us celebrate His coming and becoming that gift.