Grace For The Journey
Phillips Brooks, a Boston pastor, wrote the words of a favorite Christmas hymn: O Little Town Of Bethlehem . . .
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary:
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch at wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the king,
And peace to men on earth.
It is a matter of history – Bethlehem slept through Christmas. God visited their village and they missed it completely. We have focused on the innkeeper that did not find room for the traveling couple from Nazareth, but what about the whole town? The inn was not the only place one could spend the night in Bethlehem. They blew it! They missed it! Each home in Bethlehem had the opportunity to have God take on flesh in their house, but they missed it.
Are we in danger of missing God? Could it be that we will take the children to see Santa, but will miss God completely at Christmas? Let’s allow Bethlehem to be a warning to us. It is rather obvious why they missed Him – things have not changed that much. We still miss Him for the same reasons . . .
I. THEY WERE NOT LISTENING.
Contrast what happened in Bethlehem with what happened in the temple forty days later when Mary and Joseph went to the temple to present the Newborn Christ. When they arrived in the temple, they were greeted by a joyous welcome from two faithful souls – Simeon and Anna. Each of them had been waiting in the temple week after week in expectation of the appearance of the Messiah. Yet there was no Anna or Simeon in Bethlehem. Why? They were not listening.
1. They Were Not Listening To The Word Of God.
Eight hundred years earlier God had spoken concerning Bethlehem. He had spoken through Micah that the Messiah would be born in this little Judean village. For eight hundred years they had known that He was coming, and yet they were not ready. When He came, they missed Him. They had not been listening to what He had said in His Word concerning them. They heard the promise, but it had just become too familiar, they were no longer excited about it?
Are we listening? Does not the Lord still speak through His Word? Our generation has laid the Bible aside as having nothing to say to them. We are the most Biblically illiterate people to ever live in this country. The men and women who established this country were a people of the Book. Even those who did not believe were familiar with its teachings. But not us! Not our children and grandchildren! Not our neighbors! We are in danger of missing God because we are not listening to His Word.
If Bethlehem had been listening to the Word of God, they would not have missed Him that Christmas. He would never have been born in a cow-stall and laid in a manger. If we are listening to the Word of God, we will not miss Him.
2. They Were Not Listening To The Spirit Of God.
The thing that set Simeon and Anna apart was that they were full of the Holy Spirit. They were listening to both the Word and the Spirit, but Bethlehem was listening to neither. Of Simeon Luke writes, “And the Holy Ghost was upon him” and, “He came by the Spirit into the temple.” This good man was a part of the believing remnant that was waiting for the Messiah. Evidently there were no citizens of Bethlehem in this remnant. There was no one there listening to the Spirit as He prepared those who were to welcome the Son of God Who had He arrived on earth for His mission of Redemption.
What about us? Are we listening to the Spirit? Have we heard His quiet voice as He speaks of the Savior? O, we do not want to sleep through Christmas. We do not want to miss God.
II. THEY WERE PREOCCUPIED WITH LESSER THINGS.
There were other things going on in Bethlehem—there are always other things going on. The temptation to become preoccupied with lesser things is always with us.
1. They Were Preoccupied With The Requirements Of Government.
Does this sound familiar? Rome was the government of the day. The Caesar was Augustus, and he had issued a governmental decree that disrupted many lives, including Mary and Joseph. The decree required a registration of the people for the purpose of taxation. Actually, even though Augustus knew nothing of it, God was using his decree to get Mary to the proper place to give birth to her Son. God had already decreed that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and His word must stand. This must have created something of a homecoming atmosphere in Bethlehem. People who had moved away were coming back to register. The registration was the hot topic of conversation when the men gathered for their morning cup of coffee or tea. This was a major disruption. Who would think that God would come in the midst of such a disruption?
2. They Were Preoccupied With The Demands Of Life.
Everyone in Bethlehem had their own set of problems. We pick on the innkeeper but he was just typical of the whole village. He had an inn to run, guests to take care of, and a family to feed. He was so caught up in the affairs of his world that he did not notice anything different about the couple standing at his door looking for a place to spend the night. Without a lot of thought he turned them away to find a place in the stable near the inn. He had other fish to fry!
But, so did everyone else in Bethlehem! Do you want to defend the citizens of Bethlehem? How were they supposed to know that Mary was the Virgin that the prophet Isaiah had foretold? How were they supposed to know that her Son was to be the Savior of Israel and the world? Everything about them seemed so ordinary. But it always does.
God works through little things in unexpected ways to come to us. If we are not paying attention, we will miss him. We must not allow the demands that surround us to cause us to miss God! There will never be another opportunity like this for this little town of David, for they had their day of opportunity to be saved and missed it. Do you realize that as far as we know from the Gospels, Jesus never returned to Bethlehem. What are you allowing to crowd out your Christmas?
III. THEY HAD DISTORTED EXPECTATIONS.
While they knew the tradition that the Messiah would come from their town, they expected the Messiah to be a royal figure. If He was the Son of David, would he not come like a king? Yet when it happened, his parents did not look like royalty. Joseph had the calloused hands of a common laborer; Mary looked like any young peasant maiden from Galilee. There definitely was not a halo around her head.
What about you? Do you have a set of expectations that has kept you from receiving the Messiah and Savior? Have you allowed your prejudices to form in you some expectations that cause you to miss God? God may not come to you dressed the garments you expect. You better be prepared to receive Him whether He meets your expectations or not.
2. They Expected Him To Come With Power.
Will you meet God today? Are you listening to His Word and His Spirit? Are ready to obey the promptings of the Spirit as He calls on you to receive the Messiah and Savior? Are you ready to set Him in His proper place, give to Him the first place in the matters of your heart? Are you ready to surrender your expectations, and to give Him the freedom to do things His way? It is urgent that you not miss God today.
How can you make sure that you do not miss Him? First, make sure that you have a relationship with Him and worship is a priority. Open your life to His Word. Give the Spirit an opportunity to speak to your heart as you join others in worship. He will come to you just like He came to Bethlehem!
Second, Make room in your home for Him. Make sure that the family gathering includes a recognition and worship of Him. Do not get some involved with the bustle of the day that you forget the reason for the day – to know Jesus and glorify Him.
Third, renew your commitment to Him. If you have never acknowledged Him as your Savior, this is the day to do it. Do not be like Bethlehem. It is the very nature of life that we have only a few opportunities to really be saved. This is one of them for you. Do not miss it. He may never come your way again.
May the Christ of Christmas find a place in your heart and home today.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”