Bethlehem – a place or an emotion or both?
Bethlehem was the place where King David was born. But to me, it is the place where Jesus came into the world. The city is in the mountains above a fertile plan, south of Jerusalem (approximately 10 km). It is a quiet center of commerce and trade, both in Jesus’s time and now. Perhaps that’s why there was no room at the in when Joseph and Mary arrived.
The ancient buildings and square are now and were then home to many peoples of different religions – Canaanites, Philistines, and Samnites. Today, it is home to mostly Palestinians who are just a step, but a physical barrier away from modern-day Israel, through a very secure border wall with Israel, where many Palestinians are forced to find work.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his father, Joseph, was required by the Roman Census to return to his ancestral city and be counted. A very pregnant Mary and Joseph traveled back to Bethlehem and arrived one evening and found no room in the city for travelers. A prophet predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
The only space Joseph and Mary could find for accommodations was a grotto – a hollowed out rock enclosure under an inn. This is not the modern day image of a cute manger in a stable, with animals gathered round, where Mary laid her newborn son.
But perhaps that is the message – that the very much more humble place of Jesus’s birth makes his ministry accessible and appealing to everyone. This humble place of Jesus’s birth, a lot more rustic than you’d think, presages Jesus’s mission to appeal and attract everyone. His ministry, appeal and mission was to everyone. Symbolically, it begins a new relationship between us and God. And to many, especially me, the word Bethlehem evokes hope.
- Martha Dale