Bethlehem…the setting of the Christmas Story
Let's begin with the setting for our Christmas story. We read yesterday of the account from Isaiah concerning the predicted birth of Christ. In fact, the actual date of recorded messages concerning the birth of Christ ranges from 1450 B.C. to 430 B.C. That's 400-1000 years before Christ's birth. Inspired by God to write not only the blessed message that the Messiah was coming but also the location of his birth, Isaiah and other prophets were integral messengers of this precious Word! Seems impossible, doesn't it? The span of time from the initial prediction to the actual birth of the Messiah? And not one fact written in multiple accounts contradicts another!
Back to the setting....Bethlehem. As Chapter 2 of Luke states, Caesar Augustus, a Roman emperor, desired a census to be taken. Although Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, they needed to make this pilgrimage to Joseph's hometown, because "he was of the house and lineage of David"...in other words, Joseph was a descendant of King David and he needed to return to David's ancient home in Bethlehem of Judea to be counted in the census. Now comes the interesting part that maybe we have overlooked. We all know that Mary was about to give birth. If you are a female and have given birth, or if you are a father and have dealt with a nine month pregnant woman, let's think about this.
Bethlehem is 5 miles south of Jerusalem. That's approximately a 68.9 mile trip. Now before you think it's only a 90 minute drive, let's remember they are traveling by foot with a donkey and a very, very pregnant woman. There were two routes they could take to get to their destination. The first route, the shortest one, would have them traveling through Samaria. This is a terrain full of hills and hostile Samaritans who didn't particularly care for Jews. Plus the added fact that having Mary walk up and down hills or Joseph pulling that donkey up hills...well, they decided for the second route.
This particular route would have been safer and more comfortable, but more distance. Probably this one was southeast through Jezreel Valley and east to the Jordan Valley. Although you'd need a map to follow this frame of reference, they would go south to Jericho, through the Judean Desert to Jerusalem and then arrive in Bethlehem. Total distance at this point, 90 miles. Scholars have predicted this to be a 4-7 day trip....not an hour by air conditioned car with comfortable leather seats. And Mary was at the point of delivery! When I was ready to deliver child number one, I could not stand the car going over small bumps. I can't imagine riding on a donkey and enduring that hardship! But God provided Mary with the ability to sustain that trip so scripture would be fulfilled.
Bethlehem....a little Judean town....sort of like a suburb of Jerusalem. Micah 5:2 says, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Bethlehem...whose Hebrew name means "house of bread" was the town in which the Bread of Life was born to man.
Isn't that just like our Father in Heaven? He takes the lowly and lifts them up, He sent Jesus to serve and not to be served, He taught us how to wash one another's feet by giving to others and providing for one another, but most of all....He gave us His gift of Love....His Son, Jesus Christ!
Bethlehem....even the place of Christ's birth teaches us about the nature of God!
Blessings, my friends!
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy 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
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth
Judith "Cookie" White is the founder of The Sounding Board Ministry. She is the author of two devotional books which are available on this site.