In was in the fields of Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” that Ruth of Moab humbled herself to glean and got the attention of the owner, Boaz, who soon proposed and married her. Their great grandson was David the shepherd boy who was watching his father’s sheep on the hillside of Judah, east of Bethlehem when the prophet Samuel sent for him and anointed him King over Israel. As we read the story of David’s life, we come across frequent references to Bethlehem. Years later the prophet Micah specified that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judah—not to be confused with the Bethlehem in Galilee and the one north of Jerusalem.
When the time arrived the Lord Jesus was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit at a time when the Lord arranged for Caesar Augusta in Rome to declare a census in which all residents had to be enrolled in their own city. This meant that Joseph would have to return to Bethlehem where he had ancestral roots and since Mary was now his wife, she would have to accompany him. What a divine orchestration of events—all in preparation for the fulfillment of prophecy and the birth of God’s Son.
While they were in Bethlehem, Jesus was born. About a mile to the east, the angels announced his birth to the shepherds on the same hillside in Judea where David had watched sheep centuries before. Concurrently, some astronomers in the Far East saw an unusually bright star. Based on their knowledge of scriptures and their studies of the heavens, they identified the star as a sign that the new King of the Jews had been born. They obtained the required permission from their sovereign and set out in search of Jesus. The long and tedious journey took months, but the star remained in the sky long enough to guide the Magi across the desert to Bethlehem. Since that time, both commoners and intellectuals have tried to advance theories as to what caused the bright light in the sky that directed these “wise men” to the precise location of the baby Jesus.
East of Bethlehem. That’s where the shepherds first heard the announcement of the new born King. That’s where the wise men first saw the light that led them to Him. All of us at one time or another find ourselves East of Bethlehem. We have heard where Jesus is. We have directions on how to find Him. The question is whether or not we will take note of the Light and allow it to lead us, then press on past all the difficulties to get there to worship Him. In His presence it is Christmas every time.
East of Bethlehem. That’s where the cross was erected on the hill at Golgatha—the cross on which Jesus died.
East of Bethlehem. That’s where Jesus led his disciples out to Bethany when He gave His farewell address and ascended to His Father.
All of us at one time or another find ourselves East of Bethlehem. We have heard where Jesus is. We have directions on how to find Him. The question is whether or not we will take note of the Light and allow it to lead us, then press on past all the difficulties to get there to worship Him. Will we identify with Him on the cross or stand afar off as His followers did? Will we heed His command to stay in Jerusalem until we are clothed with power from on high—equipped to do the work He calls us to do.
Let’s check our compass and our roadmap and be sure we find ourselves where He is. The action is no longer in the manger in Bethlehem but East of the city—outside the cradle that once could contain Him. Having completed His purpose for coming to earth and returned to His Father, He sent His Spirit to fill the whole earth—beginning with our earthen bodies. What a Christmas gift! One that lasts into eternity.
(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 1.
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