Saturday, December 23, 2023

Hindered on the Road to Bethlehem

Christmas is a time when many of us travel home. Today I'm traveling to be with my family in Wisconsin. I woke up to a city notification on my phone about dense fog all through the county. And it made me think about that in traveling for Christmas, we are all on the road to Bethlehem. But like this fog, what is hindering us from getting there?

For thousands of years Jesus' ancestors living in Bethlehem traveled from here to there, and back again. Mary and Joseph were not going on vacation to Joseph’s home town, they were called there by a decree to be counted in a Roman census. The shepherds probably didn't want to come into the city, so full of swarming people. It was calmer out in the fields with their sheep, despite the heavenly chorus of angels. And the wise men (we know that they came later) had to travel the farthest distance, following a star across deserts and mountains and valleys.

Today through our foggy roads we have GPS, we have maps, you have cell phones to help us make the way safely.

We are all on the road to Bethlehem. What is hindering our journey? We have the prophecies of the Old testament, we can read about the yearning hearts of ancient Israel, we know the story. We can probably recite the Nativity narrative without opening our Bibles.  So what hinders us on our journey? I’m not going to tell you an answer. It is different for each of us.

I heard a short devotional on this week that speaks to this. Brian Trent is a pastor in South Carolina who shares ah-ha moments about life and Scripture on Instagram. His family was reading the Luke 2 narrative and began to wonder, when the shepherds ran off to Bethlehem to see Jesus, what happened to the sheep? Nativity scenes will have us believe a few sheep came too, but a band of shepherds had hundreds of sheep to care for. There is no way they could have joined the shepherds in the busy streets of Bethlehem. Maybe a few shepherds stayed behind. Maybe the angels stayed and watched the sheep. Trent then points us to the parable Jesus told his disciples about the Lost Sheep:
“If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish."
(Matthew 18:12-14)
I wonder if Jesus was thinking about his own origin story when he told this parable. For the shepherds responding to the angel’s announcement did just the opposite. They left the 99 in order to find the One all of Israel had been waiting for.

As we reflect on what is keeping is from Bethlehem, maybe it’s the 99. All the distractions, the good and worthy people, things, and places that ultimately hold a dim candle to the One who is God with Us.

This morning I delayed my travels to make sure the fog has lifted. May we take the time to lift our eyes to the Who, not the where, what, when (although these are all fascinating, important things to wonder about).

We are on the road to Bethlehem to meet the One, who is Christ our Lord.

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