Bethlehem’s blessings to you, my faithful readers and friends.
The Christmas story is a many-layered story of wonder. Every year, I find new meaning, new angles that cause me to praise and a glorify a God who would send part of Himself in human form. Each year I share a bit of that wonder in our family Christmas letter. Here’s where my thoughts took me this year.
Imagine the road trip of a young couple traveling on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The last few miles stretched into bone wearying steps. Heavy with her soon to be born child, Mary must have wondered if this trip to Bethlehem would ever end. I can see her arching her back, shifting from side to side, trying to equalize the weight of the squirming child within her before taking a step around yet another boulder in the road. All the understandable worries of a first mom could have gone through her head. Will there be a midwife? Will I endure the pain bravely? Will there be any complications? With this crowd packing the road, will we get there in time before the baby is born? Hurry Joseph, I think I just felt a contraction.
Then she must have looked up. Looked up to see a threat the Christmas carols don’t mention – the nearby fortress of King Herod the Great.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above Thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
No, Bethlehem wasn’t still. It was jam packed with travelers, all piqued because of a senseless census demanded by an intruding government that was epresented by a megalomaniac puppet king named Herod.
Deep and dreamless sleep graces those who experience no stress. These folks had stress.
Herodium, the fortress of King Herod, towered over the little village a stone’s throw away. It is one of eleven fortresses that Herod built or rebuilt. Eight miles south of Jerusalem and three miles south of Bethlehem, the fortress provided a safe haven and a luxurious getaway for the paranoid and self-indulgent Herod. Its lavish living quarters were decorated with mosaic floors and fresco lined walls. Sitting atop an artificial hill, the seven story towers couldn’t have been missed by anyone in the vicinity.
Mary, pregnant with the Son of God, the Messiah, the prophesied Savior of her people, walked right under the nose of Herod the Great.
Why did God plan things that way? Herod the Great was a monster with a capital M. Tongues wagged that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s wife. Understandably so, for Herod had executed one of his wives and a couple of his kids. King Henry VIII, with his penchant for disposing his wives, was a saint compared to Herod’s murderous lust for control. Bethlehem was the prophesied place of Jesus’ birth, but did God overlook this bit of intrusive history? Couldn’t God arrange for Jesus to be born in a safer location or locate Herod somewhere else? Why allow the Son of God to be born in a war zone?
The God who knows everything knew that history would culminate in the presence of this threat. No imagined threat either. for shortly after Jesus’ birth, Herod showed his mettle by slaughtering the babes of Bethlehem in his fury that someone else, even a baby, might threaten his rule.
Our all-knowing God is also all-powerful. He who knew of Herod’s threat was completely capable of protecting His baby flesh wrapped Son. God Almighty could take care of things. No threat, no sweat. God’s plans would not, could not be thwarted, even by a crazed usurper. As another Christmas carol reminds us, Jesus, the newborn King, could truly sleep in heavenly peace.
And so can I.
No threat of today can harm me. Not ISIS, not some tolerance police, no weapon brandishing mentally confused gunman. Yes, they may take my life, but they can’t take my soul. Christ came to mend our brokenness before God and nothing can separate us from His lavish love. Nothing can thwart the plans He has for me and His intentions to use my life in History’s pageant.
Nothing. Not even a Herod.
God has my back. I can walk through even a valley filled with menacing death suggesting shadows. He is with me, just as He was with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus that night so long ago.
He’s with you too. No matter what you face, no matter what trials or threats dog your every step, God has you covered. You too can sleep in heavenly peace.
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