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Bethlehem

Matthew 2:1-6 

In his book, The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture, Dell deChant, a professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida contends that "the Christmas season culture has become a religion all its own." He suggests that "It's a religion complete with mysterious and powerful deities (the economy, Santa Claus), houses of worship (malls), narratives (carols) and rituals (shopping and decorating)."

"Santa, not Jesus, is the savior of the season," says deChant, "He certainly saves the bottom line for retailers across the country." Even though many of us complain about the commericialism, deChant says the "'Festival of Consumption' between Thanksgiving and the week after Christmas has taken on all the characteristics of traditional religions, embraced with equal fervor by the holy and not-so-holy among us. He calls it "a religious culture in disguise."

(http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

While in America we work to separate Christmas from the Christmas culture so we can worship the Christ of Christmas, other places in the world face more tangible problems. According to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "There won't be any Christmas [in Bethlehem this year]." Of course, he was referring to Christmas festivities in the holy city because Israel's military has closed it down for security reasons.

The vice-governor of Bethlehem, Mr. Mounir Salameh, confirmed Arafat's assertion. According to Salameh, most of the Christmas celebrations have been officially cancelled, with the exception of the traditional midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity.

(http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

I can see how leaders of both the Arabs and the Jews involved in the dispute in the Middle East would view canceling Christmas activities as the same as canceling "Christmas," but to the Christian the notion is ludicrous. Perhaps the authorities can stop Christians in Bethlehem from following their traditions in public, but they cannot stop them from looking up into the night sky and remembering that a couple thousand years ago, a bright light pierced the darkness announcing the birth of the Savior. 

Matthew 2:1-6 NASB "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, [2] 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.' [3] And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [4] And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. [5] And they said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, [6] 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler, Who will SHEPHERD My people Israel.'"

The chief priests and the scribes were referring to Micah 5:2 that says, "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 from of old, from ancient times." (NASB)

Today, as we light the Bethlehem candle, we are reminded that the Incarnation-God becoming man-this wonderful theological event that we celebrate in this season, was a historical event that took place at a historic location. 

In 1 John 1:1-2, John wrote, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life-- [2] and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us." To John, the birth of Jesus was a historical fact that he verified with his own eyes and hands.

In his gospel, John also wrote about the Incarnation, he wrote, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. [4] In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (John 1:1-5 NASB) The fact that the darkness could not comprehend the light does not do away with its brilliance. 

Focus with me on this great historical fact-God became man and dwelt among us. In John 1:14, John wrote, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." 

That single truth shines brightly, like a candle in the dark-God became man! Relish the thought, celebrate the thought! God bridged the distance between Himself and sinful man-He came to dwell among us. 

Whether the celebration is watered down by commercialism here or hampered by cancelling activities like in modern-day Bethlehem, the grand truth emerges-God became man to dwell among us. And He did it in Bethlehem-an insignificant city-according to Micah, the "small among the clans of Judah."

There is a theme throughout scripture that is illustrated in the physical location of the Incarnation-the theme is that greatness comes out of humility. This theme is more substantial than an underdog emerging victorious-it is more than Rocky winning the championship belt or the glass slipper fitting Cinderella's foot. The scriptural theme suggests that the only way to real greatness is the path of humility. Jesus said, "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." (Matthew 19:30 NASB) Peter would later write, "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:" (1 Peter 5:6 KJV)

Jesus also warned against self-exaltation. Speaking of the Pharisees, he said, "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; [6] they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; [7] they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.' [8] But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. [9] And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. [10] Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. [11] The greatest among you will be your servant. [12] For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:5-12 NASB)

In his book, Spiritual Leadership, J Oswald Sanders writes, "Humility is the hallmark of [one] whom God can use, although it is not in the world's curriculum. In the realm of politics and commerce, humility is a quality neither coveted nor required. There the leader needs and seeks prominence and publicity. But in God's scale of values, humility stands high. Self-effacement, not self-advertisement, was Christ's definition of leadership." (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

I don't mean to suggest that the teachings of these scriptures are that humility is the first step and then that greatness follows. It is not that one leads to the other, it is that one defines the other. There is no real greatness without humility and humility is a quintessential quality of greatness. 

In humility, Jesus was born. He did not arrive in a flaming chariot from the sky with a trumpet announcing his arrival In a humble town. Born of humble parents. Born in a humble location-a barn and placed in a humble bed-a manger. This humility was not a path to greatness-it was His greatness.

Paul wrote: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, [6] who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, [10] that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, [11] and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philip. 2:5-11 NASB) 

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