We think of Christmas as a time of peace and good will, and indeed that is what is promised. But it is not always an easy or comfortable message. God coming to earth shatters all expectations, challenges us, disturbs the accepted order, just as it did for those amongst whom Jesus lived and worked. The Jews were expecting the Messiah to be a warrior who would drive out their Roman overlords. In the song of praise (often known by its Latin title: the Magnificat) offered by Mary before the birth of her son Jesus in Bethlehem, she said: ‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away’ (Luke 2:12-13).
And why was Jesus born in Bethlehem and not in Nazareth where Mary and Joseph lived? They had been obliged to make the long journey there by the Roman authorities because Joseph was ‘of the House of David’, as we saw a month or so ago, and Bethlehem was officially his town of origin (Matthew2:1-3). Jesus was not born in the comfort of the family home, and he was in due course, to be crucified by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of the leaders of the temple in Jerusalem.
So where does that leave us? Jesus later challenged his followers to take up their cross and follow him (Luke 19:21); we are to become members of his flock. It will not always be easy, but we will be at peace in the knowledge that the love of God and the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit will be ours. The prophet Micah (ca 700 BCE) said:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kingdom shall return to Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. Micah 5:2-5a.
God’s promise of peace is offered to everyone who accepts it. As we remember the birth in Bethlehem, a birth under difficult circumstances let is also remember in prayer the people living there now and for all those for whom Christmas will not be joyous:
Lord and Father, we remember at this time the people of Bethlehem and all Christians who find life difficult in many parts of the world, and we thank you that you sent your Son to bring peace. Amen.