” 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 of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2
The prophet Micah was active in the eighth century BC. He foresaw that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. He even signified which Bethlehem, since a second town by this name existed in northern Israel. “Ephrathah” was the ancient name for the Bethlehem of the south. Only through divine inspiration could Micah have pinpointed so exactly the birthplace of Jesus.
There are many references to the long-awaited Messiah throughout the Old Testament. Through them, God clearly signified the validity and the import of these Scriptures not only for Jewish people, but for Christians who would live in later times as well
Bethlehem, however, was not Jesus’ hometown. His mother Mary, and His foster-father Joseph, lived in Nazareth. Near the end of Mary’s pregnancy, King Herod ordered that all families should go to the their town of origin to be registered. For Joseph, who belonged to the House of David, that meant traveling with his family to Bethlehem, the home of his ancestor, King David.
The distance was about 70 miles, and the trip probably took 3 or 4 days. It would not have been an easy journey for Mary, bouncing along the stony paths on a donkey’s back. Why did Jesus allow His mother to undergo this hardship? Perhaps He was indirectly teaching that even those most dear to Him would have difficulties in this world
For Jesus himself, this discomfort was only the beginning. He had willingly left the glory and perfection of heaven to be born as a frail human baby in a rough, draughty stable. The wealthy innkeepers, visitors, and comfortable residents of Bethlehem ignored His presence, as many people do today. Why did He choose to come as the poorest of the poor?
He wished to be available to everyone. His first visitors were Jewish shepherds, who spent nights out of doors, tending herds of sheep. Had Jesus been rich, they never would have had access to Him. The poor have always had a special place in the heart of the Almighty.
Jesus is, after all, God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and Creator of the universe. He could have arrived in glory, shining like the sun, and taken up residence in the grandest castle ever seen on earth. Why didn’t He?
What would have been people’s reaction to Him then? They would have approached with fear and trembling, if at all. More likely, they would have run away and hidden. This was not the reception He wanted from human beings,
He came as a baby, a small, helpless infant. Everyone loves a baby, and this was the reaction He wanted to inspire. He is the God of Love.
He came to open the gates of heaven so that all people could join Him one day in His heavenly home. He came to inspire love, not fear. Today, love is still all He asks of us.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. John 14:15
When we love someone very much, it is easy to do things we know will please Him. Jesus came as a baby to inspire such love, so that His earthly brothers and sisters would avoid sin and thus be able to share with Him in the eternal joy of heaven.
What He wants from us on His birthday this year is the same gift He wanted from the shepherds on the first Christmas in Bethlehem: unconditional love.
Later on in his life, Jesus explained it in these words to a lawyer who tried to test Him.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matt. 22, 36:40.
The greatest life lesson of Bethlehem is just that: the lesson of love. God loves us with an everlasting love. He awaits our response.