Come Back to Bethlehem!

"And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ " (Matthew 2:6)

As I spend time in prayer for our congregation, I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit gently encouraging us all to COME BACK TO BETLEHEM. It is the Christmas Season – one of the high moments for the Church. It is about REMEMBERING the BIRTH of CHRIST. It is a time to respond in faith to the descent, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ Jesus. That is what this Christmas season is all about…it more than the giving and receiving, the commercials, candies and cards, etc.

How do we respond to the spirit of Christmas? We respond to the birth of Christ – by responding in hope, faith, and love shown by the Holy family in their journey toward Bethlehem. The Holy family (Joseph, Mary and Christ Jesus) show us that the faith of Abraham (the faith of a believer) is not an escape from the world, but an engagement with the world. Our faith does not anaesthetize us to the pains and apparent injustices of life. It does not reconcile us to suffering. It asks us to play our part in the most daunting undertaking ever asked by God of humankind: to construct relationships, communities, and ultimately a society, that will create a home for the Divine Presence (Bethlehem). And that means we will wrestle with God and with people refusing to give up or despair. No one exemplifies this condition more profoundly than Jacob (Genesis 32:28; 35:10). Abraham symbolizes faith as love. Isaac represents faith as fear, reverence, and awe. But Jacob lives faith as struggle.

Often Jacob’s life seems to be a matter of escaping one danger into another. He flees from his vengeful brother only to find himself at the mercy of deceptive Laban. He escapes from Laban only to encounter Esau marching to meet him with a force of four hundred men. He emerges from that meeting unscathed, only to be confronted with the rape of his daughter Dina and the conflict between Joseph and his other sons. Alone among the patriarchs, he dies in exile. Just like Jacob wrestles, we as descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3) – the children of Abraham – we continue to wrestle with the world. Yet just like Jacob who never gives up, and is never defeated; we are never to give up. Jacob is the man whose greatest spiritual experiences occur when he is alone, at night, and far from home. Jacob wrestles with the angel of destiny and inner conflict and says, "I will not let you go until you bless me." That is how Jacob rescues hope from catastrophe – as believers have always done. Their darkest nights have always been preludes to their most creative dawns. The birth of Christ at Bethlehem is a GREAT example of this victory of Jacob.

The path toward the birth of Christ was not easy. Just like their ancestor Jacob, Joseph and Mary toiled and walked through some very tough terrain to bring about the promise of God. They trudged through the Judean countryside in the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy on a mule – just ask the moms in our congregation on how tough this is for the pregnant women… .On top of that, many in the Nazareth community misunderstood Mary for being pregnant before the marriage; Joseph was embarrassed; the family was perplexed, etc – I call this the scandal of grace! Many Nazarenes bad mouthed Mary – this virgin daughter of Israel (John 8:41). Joseph experienced financial and personal woes – the lack of money (Luke 2:24), the lack of proper housing during the birth (Luke 2:7), the losing of "face" in front of the community (the pregnant bride Matt.1:18), the lack of an intimate relationship with his wife until the promise was fulfilled (Matt 1:24-25), and his life is in the hands of some foreign invaders – the Romans (Luke 2:1-3). Despite all these obstacles, the holy family kept moving forward. It is a lesson for ALL of us in hope, faith and love!

The Scriptures show us that the promise of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6) comes about through the grace of God, AND the faith and struggle of the children of Jacob – Joseph and Mary. The journey to Bethlehem, the place of promise was tiring; it got testy and it was tough! Birthing the promises of the Lord in our lives will oftentimes become very tiring, very testy and very tough. Precious Ones, I exhort you to KEEP MOVING WITH HIM. Keep your eyes on Jesus – the author and perfecter of your faith. Behind very breakdown there is always a breakthrough, and the Lord will turn your mess into a message of hope and your test into a testimony of triumph. So, be strong and of good courage (Joshua 1:8-9)!

To each precious family of the Shepherd’s House, I know the challenges and the craziness of your world. It is not easy to face our fears and wrestle with them, refusing to let go until we have turned them into renewed strength and blessing. But speaking personally, I would have it no other way. Life in Christ is not faith as illusion, seeing the world through rose-tinted lenses as we would wish it to be. It is faith as relentless honesty, seeing evil as evil and fighting it in the name of life, and good, and Christ. That is our vocation. Be of good cheer, the Lord has overcome it for you (John 16:33).

My pastoral word to you in this season is to participate in the "Blessings of Bethlehem" during this Christmas 2012 Season.

The Lord has called you to something more than the merely celebrate this blessed season – He has called you to "PARTICIPATE" in it. He is calling you to come back to Bethlehem, and to follow the ancient pathway of faith and victory paved for us by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Mary and Yeshua. This Christmas Season come "Back to Bethlehem re-energized in His Presence so as to receive the promises of your Lord, to recite His promises, and respond to those promises in your lives. It remains a privilege to carry our Lord’s destiny through the blessings of Bethlehem – the House of Hope.


  • Sacks, Rabbi Sir Jonathan (2010-07-31). Genesis: The Book of Beginnings (Covenant & Conversation) (Kindle Locations 4085-4087). Kindle Edition.