O Bethlehem

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

Micah was a prophet who was active in Judah (the regions surrounding Jerusalem) during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. It was a troubling time. Centuries before, the United Kingdom of Israel has split into two. The ten northern tribes had formed their own kingdom known as Ephraim or - confusingly - just Israel. The southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were left as a smaller kingdom known simply as Judah.

The neighbouring nations were stirring. In 722BC, during Micah’s ministry, the northern kingdom fell to the marauding Assyrians and a couple of decades later the southern kingdom almost followed suit. In the midst of this low ebb in the fortunes of Israel, Micah gives a surprising prophecy. One day in Bethlehem - little tiny Bethlehem - someone will be born who will be a “ruler in Israel”. From Bethlehem! It’s like saying the next Prime Minister will come out of Checkley.

Then there is an intriguing twist. The coming forth of this ruler is “from of old, from ancient days”. In other words, this will be the fulfilment of a plan long in the making. Something set in motion in “ancient day”, from time immemorial.

And so, seven centuries later, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The Word who was “in the beginning”. The ancient plan was being fulfilled.

Why Bother with the Virgin Birth?

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:30-34) - If, however, the Gospels are correct and Jesus was born of a virgin. If the New Testament is right, and Jesus is fully divine as well as fully human. Well, everything changes. We truly have “God with us”.

Francis and the Crib

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) - On Christmas Eve 1223, the villagers of Greccio were invited to a service by Francis of Assisi. He had settled in the area with some of his followers, and had planned something for the locals. As the villagers climbed up the snaking paths, they came to one of the many caves which dotted the hills and discovered what Francis had planned.

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