Something More from the Sermon: Bethlehem

Yesterday’s message was an interesting challenge of weaving together the theme of God’s love, celebrating Confirmation for over 100 students in our church, and reflecting on the Bethlehem candle for the season of Advent. I had a great time trying to give as much time to each of these as I could.

I wish I could have spent more time on Bethlehem and its place within our reflection of the Advent season. I made mention how Bethlehem was the home of King David in the OT. It was there where the prophet Samuel went to set apart a new king for Israel. Jesse (David’s dad) forgot David in the field while the rest of his sons stood before the prophet on that day. Bethlehem reminds us that God knows and sees the forgotten and the overlooked, just like David.

Bethlehem was also the site of the great tragedy in the birth narratives of Jesus. After King Herod was tricked by the Magi, he sent his troops to Bethlehem to “take care of this two kings in Israel” problem by killing every baby boy 2 years and younger. What a horrifying scene that must have been.

That story in Bethlehem, though, reminds us of Exodus when Pharaoh conducted a similar military campaign. The Israelites were growing exponentially and he was afraid of an uprising, so he ordered all Israelite boys to be thrown in the Nile. Moses, the key figure of Exodus, was graciously spared from the calamity.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was also spared from the calamity in Bethlehem.

Matthew is telling his story in such a way for us to draw our eyes back to Exodus, that great triumph of the lowly, Hebrew people. In Jesus’ day, Israel is in need of a new Exodus. The only difference between the two is that this new need for an Exodus that we see in the gospels is not from foreign powers or Empires, but from Israel itself.

As some biblical scholars like to say:

“It was easier to get Israel out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of Israel.”

This is a stunning idea: we tend to struggle to break free from the last thing that we’d like to collude with in the first place.

There is much to point out in our world that needs to be confronted, that needs to be renounced. It’s a scary world out there, for sure. What I find, though, is that we tend to talk about things across oceans in order to hide from the fact that we have so much going on in our own heart that we can actually do something about that we’d rather not know that we know we should face.

Vic shared a great short story that highlights this idea. The London news paper once asked for the general public to identify what is wrong with the world. G.K. Chesterton famously wrote back,

“Dear Sirs, I am.”

So friends, let’s start there. In what ways do we need to be freed from the things that we still hold on to ourselves? May God give us the grace to¬†recognize our own ghosts and trust that God is doing a new work within us as God is doing a new work within the world.

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