The Cold Hard Truth about Bethlehem We Often Forget

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The Bethlehem was more dangerous, dirty and darker than we can imagine

Just a few weeks ago, Black Friday kicked off the holiday shopping season. People camped in front of select stores in frigid temperatures. Others rose long before sunrise to join the teaming masses of consumers. There was a collective loss of sleep and health, and a drain on finances. Some even participated in all night shopping sprees for that special deal. Black Friday.
In the first century there was also a black Friday of sorts. In Matthew 2 King Herod expressed his wish to the visiting Magi that when they find the prophesied King that they should return to him with news of his whereabouts so that Herod may worship him, too.
Indeed, they did find Messiah. And they worshipped him. Their encounter brought clarity as to their priorities. They avoided Herod upon their return trip home.
Herod, enraged at their betrayal, determined to exterminate this growing threat to his throne. He ordered that all first-born boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger should be killed. He committed a form of genocide in the hope of destroying this new king. It was a black Friday, indeed. Every male infant in Bethlehem was slain, save one.
God had another plan. He would not be thwarted. Joseph heeded the angel’s warning and fled with his young family to Egypt, waiting for news of Herod’s death before returning home to Nazareth.
Buying gifts for loved ones to celebrate Christmas is a delightful tradition. Getting good deals in the process makes sense. For some, the black Friday tradition brings their families together with shared adventures. And that is great. But never forget this one thing. In a non-descript stable two thousand years ago, Jesus huddled in the arms of his earthly parents as they quietly fled their homeland while Herod deployed the full might of his formidable armada to seek him out and kill him. Although many innocents died that day, the sinless one survived by God’s hand so that in the fullness of time, he could lay down his life for us all.
Jesus was not born into a storybook. The historical Christmas is far less glamorous, and far more miraculous, than most of our cultural traditions and even some of our church traditions dare to acknowledge. It is filled with the intrigue of angelic encounters and political machinations, the ordinary and mundane presence of shepherds and farm animals, and the wonder and awe of the visiting Magi, as well as the accompanying shepherds and angels.
Perhaps in this season of Advent we should be so moved to remember the perilous times which faced our newborn Lord and his loving earthly family. And in so doing, may we better appreciate God’s intervention on their behalf and ours.

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