Bethlehem reading: Micah 5:2-5a
Jesus’ birthplace is given in prophecy. The lowly town of Bethlehem will be that place. This is also the birthplace of king David.
The song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is ringing in my mind right now. I’m going to have to find a YouTube video and play it for a while.
At the time of Micah’s writings Bethlehem was already known. It was the birthplace of king David, near where Rachel was buried, the hometown of Naomi and where she returned to with her daughter-in-law Ruth, and a strategic location for defense of Israel. It was however, NOT the seat of power. That distinction belonged to Jerusalem and Samaria.
Jerusalem would remain the capital of Judea when Israel split in two. Samaria was the seat of power for the Northern Kingdom. Both of these cities fell when their kingdoms were besieged. Samaria fell to the Assyrian armies while Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.
I don’t know the size of Bethlehem in relation to other cities but I’m assuming that it was midsized. It’s strategic location resulted in a Philistine garrison being there at one time so it must have been large enough to support such a large group. It was also a walled city. Nothing on the grand scale of Jericho but still enough to offer some defense against invaders. I don’t think it was a ‘one inn’ town. There is no way one inn could have accommodated even a small portion of the people who came for the census that brought Jesus’ family.
Let’s take a look at the town on a regular day.
The gates are open first thing in the morning to allow travelers and merchants entrance into the city. The city center is used as the marketplace. Merchants call out to passing residents trying to interest them in their wares. Men drive small herds of animals through the side gates of the city taking them to pasture. Women carry water from the well back to their homes. Children run in the streets playing games with one another. Neighbors call out greetings to one another. A normal day in a quiet town.
Let’s look again at the town just before that special night.
People have been flowing through the gates of the city for days. The streets are crowded with travelers. Tempers are getting short as people compete for the available supplies. The markets can’t keep up with the demand. The inns are full to capacity. Many people came by caravan so they have no animals to shelter which helps in many respects. But even the caravan camps are filled to the brim.
The noise level in the city is unbelievable! People greeting one another. Dogs barking. Sheep bleating. Bargaining over goods. Arguments. Children raising their voices to be heard. Voices raised in conversation at table.
Just walking down the street is a challenge. Pushing your way through the crowds. Making sure you don’t get knocked down and trampled. Carrying your belongings in a manner to prevent them from being stolen. Watching where you step to avoid stepping on someone else or in animal dung.
This is the city Joseph and his VERY pregnant wife will soon enter. They will have to navigate these streets looking for a place to stay. I wonder if Joseph will try and make this journey inside the walls alone. Or will he bring Mary into this sea of humanity? Will she stand beside him as he pleads for a place to stay? Or will he be relaying her need in her absence?
No silent night that night. No quiet streets in serene rest. Maybe in the middle of the night it quiets down. Good thing Jesus was born at night. God didn’t have to compete with all the noise to get the shepherds attention.
The city that birthed David and saw his anointing as king would herald the birth of the Everlasting King.
Father God, thank You for getting my attention. Even in the midst of all the bustle You were, and are, working. I find it is easier to hear You though when I’m quiet. I am learning to look for the quiet times even in the middle of business. I am also learning to be gracious when my quiet is interrupted. I don’t want to miss what You are doing now by being too caught up in everything else that is going on. Help me focus on the BEST gift of Christmas. Let nothing else take my eyes away.