O Little Town of Bethlehem
The first section of this may be a little deep, so heads up and put on some hip waders… stick with me though. I hope to help us see the Advent and Christmas story from a fresh perspective. Enjoy!
The hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” presents a contrast of common life imagined for the town and Holy Family at the time of Jesus’ birth, with the divine drama unfolding in the midst of it. This back water town plays host to the opening act of reconciliation between the created Universe and the God who made it. The Word of God is born into the most humble of circumstances, to a young mother engaged to a man who is not her baby’s father. The contrast could not be broader. It is a smash up of the very real everyday life we may imagine and the incomprehensible existence of God.
Use your imagination for a moment: Still simplicity, an evening chill made warm in a basic shelter, the rugged warmth from cloth covered straw… relieved parents, shocked shepherds, and an angelic host who had prepared for this night since the dawn of Grace.
When we think about the past, it is easy to see God at work. When we read the Nativity story, our imaginations can fire off and “see” it in a way which makes sense to us. What if God wanted to be at work now, in your life today? What would that look like? Could we see past the familiarity of our own lives to see God at work?
One way we miss God working in our lives is we dismiss the divine in the midst of the common. Sometimes we miss God with objections like “my life is too messy,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m just ________.” That makes the miracle of Jesus’ birth that much more impactful for us to realize it was precisely into lives, towns, and families just like ours he came into.
The final verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem says, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” The miracle of Christmas today is that the presence of God continues to take up residence in us, in our hearts. When we hear how Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, please realize he was wrapped not in fine linen nor placed in a crib. He was wrapped in common bands of cloth and laid in a feed trough. We proclaim the presence of God is in/among us. It is precisely lives like ours Jesus seeks to inhabit.
Chris Yost [email protected]