O little town of Bethlehem

Today’s Bible readings are: Micah 5.2–5a; Hebrews 10.5–10; Luke 1.39–45 [46–55].

For prophets and Gospel writers alike the town of Bethlehem had all kinds of associations that made it the ideal location for the birth of the deliverer / messiah. It was King David’s home-town and the place of his anointing as king (1 Sam 16). For Micah as for Luke it was near enough to Jerusalem to provide a point of comparison. The traditional capital had become corrupt so new hope would come, not from completely foreign quarters, but not directly from Jerusalem either. Thus John the Baptist springs from a priestly family, centred (presumably) on Jerusalem, but Jesus, from the nearby, yet alternative, Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was also the place where Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. I have just been reading that story in Genesis 35.16–21 and was struck by similarities between it and Luke’s birth narrative. (The themes of journeying, childbirth and naming are prominent in both). Bethlehem became, for Rachel (and for Jacob) a place of threat, pain, and death but also a place of hope and celebration because of the birth of a child. So in Luke’s story, into the pain and distress of an oppressed people, came hope and peace in Jesus Christ.

Bethlehem today is again a place of tension, pain and distress. Can hope and peace  break through there anew in our day?

Christian Aid is featuring Bethlehem in its Christmas appeal.

Loving God, we pray for the people of Bethlehem and for a renewal of hope and peace there. Amen.

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