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Let Us Go Now to Bethlehem

“…the angel said… I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. … When the angels had left…, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’  So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (Luke 2:10-11;15-16 NRSV).

The character of the Christmas Season seems to be in the eye of the beholder.  That is, more and more, it is defined by what people have created in their mind’s eye: be it a time of good will, a time of peace and joy, of gift-giving, of decorating, or of family time; the list can go on and on. 

Luke describes that first Christmas as a time of “good news of great joy.” Why? Because everything was wonderful? No, because to us “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord,” was born in Bethlehem! The response of the shepherds was to quickly go to Bethlehem and see what was made known to them; and there they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.

While the Christmas Season for many is certainly a time of celebration and joy, the question is: Do we, like the shepherds, go to Bethlehem to see what God has made known to us? Do we go to receive the gift of this very first Christmas present, the Christ Child? Do we, like the shepherds, see Jesus in this holy season, and encounter the extraordinary Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace in that lowly and very ordinary manger? Is Jesus “the Reason for the Season” for us?

God came to us as a baby in Bethlehem because God wants to be with us. Emmanuel, in Hebrew, means “God with us.” And God came to be with us, so that God could reunite us to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God wants to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with God and each other. So the question remains: Do we go to our Bethlehems to see and encounter the Savior given to us which the angels proclaimed?

We go to Bethlehem whenever we engage God’s Word and Prayer and encounter Jesus. We go to Bethlehem when we receive the Body and Blood of the living Christ in the Lord’s Supper. We go to Bethlehem whenever we see the face of Christ in the face of the stranger in need. We go to Bethlehem whenever we respond to others who are hurting, so that they may see Jesus in us.

Bethlehem, the little town in which the Prince of Peace was born, is more symbolic today of the brokenness that exists among peoples and nations, than it is of peace. Yet, that is precisely why Emmanuel came, and precisely where he may be found. In the birth of Jesus, God chose to be among us, and still chooses to be with us, in the midst of war, pain, sickness, tragedy, and death.

May this Christmas Season be for you a time of great joy: for to you is born a Savior! And may you, like the shepherds, Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing; may you come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king (ELW 289, vs. 3).

~Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek