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Why Bethlehem?

Hal Habecker

Dec 15

“Bethlehem and God’s Sovereignty” The 19th Day of Advent December 15, 2022

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity" (Micah 5.2).

When the magi arrived in Jerusalem wondering where the King of the Jews would be born, the answer was in Bethlehem. How miraculous! Jesus was born in Bethlehem for three reasons.

First, the prophet Micah was told by God that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was not overly impressive and certainly not the kind of place where a king would be born. Rather, it was just a very small insignificant village 5 miles south of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the prophet noted that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of Messiah. What God sovereignly predicted 7 centuries earlier will happen just as Micah predicted.

Second, Messiah’s birthplace in Bethlehem happened because king David was born there. As Messiah would be the Son of David and sit of the throne of David, it makes sense that Messiah would be born in the town where His father David was born.

Third, how is it that Messiah came to be born in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth? Consider the sovereignty of God who governs all things. How did it “just happen” that Caesar Augustus (from Rome) decreed a census during Mary’s pregnancy which required Joseph, who lived in Nazareth, to go to Bethlehem at or about the 9th month of Mary’s pregnancy because his lineage was of the house of David and the house of David was Bethlehem? There is no way this all just happened by chance. Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem to fulfill the Scripture. He couldn’t have been born anywhere else in Israel. God used the rule of a pagan Caesar from Rome to make a decree which would lead to Messiah being born in Bethlehem at exactly the right time.

We considered Galatians 4.4 back on the 2nd day of Advent. “When the fullness of time came,” Caesar Augustus ruler in Rome, decreed a census which would take Joseph back to Bethlehem with his expectant wife who just happened to be 9 months pregnant so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem as the King of the Jews exactly as the Scriptures predicted 7 centuries in advance. At exactly the right time, Gabriel came to Mary and the Holy Spirit conceived the Son of God in Mary so that her 9-month pregnancy would come due in Bethlehem at exactly the right time. Is that incredible or what?!

Maybe that is why Phillips Brooks, struggling with his own challenging issues, was so moved as he spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem in 1865 that he later penned to words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” remembering that night in Bethlehem.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above While mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wondering love Oh morning stars together, proclaim thy holy birth. And praises sing to God the king, and peace to men on earth.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Here is my plea. If we would simply stop and take in the incredible truths that permeate every part of the Christmas narrative, we would bow in complete surrender to our sovereign God. We know from these stories that God is no less active in our own lives and in our own days just as He was in the days of Christ.

Someone put it to me this way many years ago.

“If we had any sense at all we would give our lives in utter abandon to the One who gave His life for us that we might live for Him and for Him alone.”

In 2022 this is still true. I choose peace because God is sovereign. The limitations, isolation, and fears in this year are opportunities to keep giving our lives away for others. We are children of the Light, called to our Savior’s Light into the world (John 8.12).

This is true for me personally this year. While Vicki and I have each recovered from difficult foot surgeries these past two years, recoveries still challenge us. Nevertheless, we are encouraged that our lives are in His hand. His sovereign will is being worked out through this year just as He has sovereignly worked in every other year.

I think Mary and Joseph both felt that deep peace and confidence in God on that first Christmas night because of God’s sovereign, redemptive work in their lives. Don’t you?

Happy 19th Day of Advent, 2022.

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