Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Come to Bethlehem and see

Often it happens that a particular carol or Christmas song will stick in your head and maybe your heart. This year I have been humming a particular verse from "Angels We Have Heard On High."

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heav'nly song?

The entire second verse is a question! And the answer: "Come to Bethlehem and see..."

If you go to Bethlehem, like any good tourist, you will see the Church of the Nativity, and the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born. It looks quite a bit different from the humble manger Luke described, or the cave in Matthew’s gospel. Over the centuries the various branches of the Church have enshrined it, decorated it, and (incredibly) fought over it. The witness of faith is that the place of Christ’s birth is important, worthy of veneration, and a testimony to the truth of God’s presence in the world.

I agree. As a born and raised Show Me state-er, I know it is important to “come to Bethlehem and see.”

It is critically important that each of us make our pilgrimage to the place where Christ is born. Not that you have to travel to Bethlehem, or any particular religious site, but you must go to that place where God’s love enters and redeems the world. Jesus came into the world not to condemn it, but to save the world, to save us. For God to be real to us, we must encounter God’s power at work.

When we see lepers healed (think Ebola, or think AA), when we see non-violent movements change governments and change hearts, when we see murderers transformed into teachers and people consumed by anger transformed by forgiveness, when we see people die in peace because they are living in love, we can say "God is here. Right here in this spot. God is doing something, something new, something powerful, something wonderful. Come to Bethlehem, or South Africa, or Ferguson or Syria or Sierra Leone or Afghanistan (we hope and pray). Come and see what God is up to."

And of course the prayer is that God is doing that mighty work in our nation, in our town, in our house, in our lives. Gloria in excelsis Deo. The adoration we give to this little baby Jesus is both a testimony to the power of what God has done AND a radical statement of our desperate hope in what God is doing.

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