I’m Sorry…Where EXACTLY is Bethlehem?

Bethlehem with wall.jpg

Advent 4C

2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5: 2-4)

So you think that power only comes from the rich and the powerful and the larger-than-life? Bethlehem of Ephrathah, the place of one of the little clans of Judah, shall bring forth the ruler. Notice that this is not the capitol city. This is not the center of wealth and prestige and whatever the media chooses to cover. This is not the place where the kings and princes and presidents come to make their mark. This is not the place where the politicians that want so badly to be in charge stop off for their photo op. This is not the place where the story is made and published for all to partake. Dateline will not be coming to Bethlehem of Ephrathah anytime soon. Bethlehem of Ephrathah is a small, little-known place on the outskirts of what is happening. But it is here, in Bethlehem of Ephrathah, that something wonderful will happen.

Now, understand that that the original writing never associated this with Jesus’ birth. We Christians are shaped by our roots. We know that Jesus came to be in Bethlehem, in, according to the Scripture and the tradition, a lowly manger in a lowly stable (or probably just the part of the house that housed the animals). So, when we read a story of Bethlehem that is where we go. But the original writing was probably claiming a new Davidic king, one that would rule relying on the strength and wisdom and mercy of God. And to those in exile, those struggling to regain hope and identity and life itself, it seemed that the line was ending. Who are we kidding? It seemed that life was ending! The gates were bowing with the pounding of the Assyrian armies. Things were about to change. Darkness was seeping into their lives. And the prophet proclaimed that, regardless of what seemed, the Light was coming.

You see, God NEVER obeys those rules of life that we have created. Thanks be to God! Over and over, God comes into the outskirts of civilization. Over and over, God comes into the places that we would rather forget, into the places of the displaced, the refugee, the places of homelessness and poverty and a world that doesn’t really have room, the places that are not prepared for God to come. And in the darkest corners of the world, God enters and Light comes to be. (Because, really, if God only came to the places that knew God was coming, to the places that were cleaned and sanitized and ready for the maker of the world to enter, the places that were only filled with those who knew God was on their side or agreed with them or didn’t think they needed to change into who God thought they could be, then, really, why would we need God at all?)

But Light comes into the darkness, whether or not the darkness recognizes itself. Light seeps into through the cracks and crevices of our carefully-constructed world that we have walled off to others and begins to make a home. Light comes uninvited into those places that never knew they were dark at all. Light comes whether or not we are ready, whether or not we’ve planned it, whether or not we have done what we should do, and Light makes a home in a manger or whatever else it will find and we will never be the same.

Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world. (Mary Lou Redding)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

Expectant Hope

cropped-dreamstimefree_2365100.jpgScripture Text: Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I remember when I was little, going to bed on Christmas Eve was the hardest and the most amazing thing to do.  I would lay there so excited about the next morning that I couldn’t sleep.  There were things that I hoped against hope would be under the tree when I awoke.  But, the main thing, is that I knew deep down that, regardless of what I hoped would be there, there was always something wonderful there.  I knew that.  I thought sure that there was no way I would ever go to sleep but at some point, I would drift off.  Then in the morning, I would lay there for a little awhile.  Even at a young age, I understood that there was this moment–this wonderful glorious moment when I would get my first look at the Christmas tree (post-Santa’s visit) and I would savor it, push it until I could not stand it anymore.  Then, there it was–this moment filled with beauty and wonder and hopes fulfilled before the tree stood a short time later in a barren wasteland of discarded wrapping paper.  But in that moment was hope alive.

 

I think we have lost the meaning of the word hope.  We’ve become like that young child, attaching it to a list of needs or wants that we have somehow conjured up in our head.  We have gotten hope confused with wishing.  I think, though, that hope is more.  It is not what we want to happen or what we wish would happen; hope is what we expect will happen.  The young me had somehow gotten that part of it too–that understanding that hope was not merely wanting something, but daring to expect it, daring to imagine that it would actually come to be.

 

As Christians, we are given hope.  Oh, hope was always there.  We just believe that it became more tangible that night in the manger and that it could no longer even be denied as we stood before an empty tomb.  But what we do with that hope is up to us.  Living with hope is not about merely wishing things were different and it’s certainly not about wanting things to be better for us.  Living with hope is living with the conviction that somehow, some way, even though it doesn’t make sense to us and even though we don’t understand it, we dare to expect that that moment will come to be–filled with beauty and wonder and hopes fulfilled.

 

This season of Advent gives us hope.  In our waiting, in this season in which we have to let go of our need to control what is going to happen, our need to plan, our need to jump ahead to the next season, we find hope.  And as the passage implies, hope feeds our faith, gives it life.  Hope is not wishing; hope is expecting.  Dare to expect what seems to be beyond hope and there you will find hope.  Hope is alive.  It is more than a dream; it is the story into which we live.  Living with hope is daring to live as if what you are expecting has already come to be.

 

Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world. (Mary Lou Redding, “While We Wait”)

 

FOR TODAY:  For what do you hope?  What do you expect?  What would it mean to live with expectant hope?

Grace and Peace and Advent Blessings,

Shelli