2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
one whose origins are from the distant past.
3 The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
4 And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.
5 And he will be the source of peace.
Bethlehem – Over the last several weeks, Pastor Barry has been doing a series called The Little Town of Bethlehem during Advent. For this morning’s Christmas message I again want to focus on this little town. There really wasn’t much important about Bethlehem — this little Judean village lies 6 miles south of Jerusalem — the big important city. Bethlehem is important in its own right however. The entry at Wikipedia has this to say and reminds us of several of the messages of the past few weeks:
Bethlehem, located in the “hill country” of Judah, may be the same as the Biblical Ephrath, which means “fertile”: There is a possible reference to it as Beth-Lehem Ephratah. It is also known as Beth-Lehem Judah, and “the city of David”. It is first mentioned in the Tanakh and the Bible as the place where the Abrahamic matriarch Rachel died and was buried “by the wayside” (Gen. 48:7). Rachel’s Tomb, the traditional grave site, stands at the entrance to Bethlehem. According to the Book of Ruth, the valley to the east is where Ruth of Moab gleaned the fields and returned to town with Naomi. Bethlehem is the traditional birthplace of David, the second king of Israel, and the place where he was anointed king by Samuel. It was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his warriors brought him water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam.
It is Bethlehem where Jesus was going to be born — the long awaited promise. If a king was to be born surely he wouldn’t be born in Bethlehem. So, many years ago, a child was born, his name is Jesus and as we are told in Matthew’s gospel, he will save his people his people from their sins. Yesterday, I began working on a sermon for the Sunday following Christmas. I’ve been listening to the song by Casting Crowns, While You Were Sleeping. Mark Hall wrote it while trying to rework the classic Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem. The people of Israel were sleeping when Jesus came to earth so long ago in Bethlehem. In fact only a few people were even aware that Jesus had arrived on earth. There was Mary and Joseph, those are the obvious ones. Then there are the shepherds who were out in the fields around Bethlehem. I love the way the movie The Nativity Story depicts the shepherds watching their sheep. The angels of heaven came to announce the good news to the shepherds and then there are those curious wise men. Again, I love the different perspective that was presented in the movie. We don’t know when the wise men arrived, but they came to worship this newborn king. The rest of the world, as far as we can tell, was clueless.
For the most part, those in that part of the world were more concerned with the oppression of the Romans and the crazy head of state Herod. Rome was in complete charge of its territories and it was quick to squelch any uprisings. This is in part what made Herod so nervous. According to the biblical narrative, not even Herod was aware of what was going on at least until the arrival of the wise men in Jerusalem. After all, if a king was to be born to Israel, wouldn’t he be born in the capital city — the religious center of Israel? It was only after Herod had his scribes and wise men check the ancient writings did Herod discover what was happening in the shadow of the capital.
Why were so many sleeping? We do know that it had been 400 years since God last spoke to the people of Israel through the prophets. Perhaps the people had been lulled into complacency because of the silence. Hasn’t that ever happened to you? When things become quiet, we get sleepy, perhaps that’s what happened to those who were waiting for the promised one — they became spiritually sleepy. They began to go through the motions. Look at the Pharisees — they had all kinds of activity — the followed all the laws — they made sure everyone else was following the laws — they knew the scriptures and yet, all of this happened right underneath their noses. Yes, as Jesus became known, several Pharisees and others from the spiritual counsels began to discover who this Jesus was and God even opened the eyes of several, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramethia. Most, however, remained spiritually blind and spiritually asleep to the fact that Jesus had come to earth.
The question that I have for you is, “Are you awake to the true meaning of Christmas or are you sleeping as well?” As I mentioned several weeks ago during the First Sunday of Advent, not only was Jesus promised to come the first time, but Jesus has promised that he would return for those who believe him and call on his name. This second coming or Second Advent is not something that you will want to sleep through. Just like those at the time of Jesus’ birth who were sleeping to his coming, there will be those who will be sleeping when he comes back. I would hope that you are not among those who are sleeping when he returns.
In Matthew 25, we have a powerful parable about what happens to those who are sleeping when Jesus returns.
1″At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.4The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6″At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7″Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9″ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10″But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11″Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
12″But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13″Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
And so it can be for us – we can be too busy for Jesus and we can completely miss him. I have enjoyed this Advent and Christmas more than I have in a long time. Even Pam has really enjoyed this particular Advent and Christmas season. One of the reasons for me is that this is the first time in ten years that I haven’t worked in a retail setting during Advent or Christmas. I feel spiritually alive this Christmas. Retail has a way of taking the fun out of Christmas and our Savior’s birth. It can make you spiritually sleepy. Another thing that I always will guard people against is getting too busy at Christmas. It’s been a unique Christmas for our family — It’s been a simple Christmas for our family — Perhaps that’s why I feel so alive and awake this year. I really want to encourage you not to miss out — not to sleep through Christmas this year. Will you be sleeping our awake this year?
Jesus gives each one of us an opportunity to respond to him. This morning Jesus may be calling you to turn your life over to him – to become spiritually awake. We don’t know when Jesus is coming again. Scripture makes that plain. I want to encourage you to have a relationship with the one person who is more important than any other.
The praise team is coming to sing a wonderful song of the season, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” As we are singing I encourage you to think about where you are spiritually. If Jesus is calling you, the altar is open for you to seek him here. Come now and offer your life to him.