“What Happens in Bethlehem”
You’ve heard the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? One of my favourite Twitter hashtags is an alternate version of that saying: “What happens in Bethlehem doesn’t stay in Bethlehem.”
The story of Christ’s birth reminds us in a wonderful way that when God became flesh and entered our world as an infant, God was born in a particular place, to an ordinary family, and the news was made known to regular, working-class people who were nearby. God’s entrance was not made with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but he was born in a little town, in a stable out back of someone’s house, where very few people would notice.
But we are also reminded that God’s coming into the world in this way changed the lives of those he encountered, and eventually it changed the whole world. What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem.
In many ways, I expect that this has been a pretty normal year in and around First Presbyterian Church. But it has also been a remarkable year, for me especially. A new minister for you has meant at least a few changes. And a new congregation, and home, and city, has meant a lot of changes for me. But it’s all very manageable change, when you think about it. We’ve all been through bigger changes than this, haven’t we?
At Christmas, I can’t help but think about families experiencing the wonderful change of welcoming a new baby. Many of you have been through that experience, or you’ve watched the lives of friends or family members turned upside down when a child is born.
Let’s consider how much those babies transform our lives. Parents and grandparents are never the same once those children are added to their families. Responsibilities multiply. Schedules are radically changed. Priorities are completely turned around. The focus of so many lives is redirected to caring, nurturing, teaching, disciplining, and equipping those young lives for the future. Joy is magnified. Worry expands exponentially. Nothing will ever be the same.
What happens in the maternity ward at Regina General Hospital does not stay there… but it is just the beginning of an amazing journey that includes both joy and wonder, stress and strain, sorrow and tears, as children grow and experience all the ups and downs of life in this world.
The fact that we are gathered here tonight, and that all around the world, people are worshipping God and celebrating God’s coming to us as a child in Bethlehem is good evidence that what happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem.
The shepherds told what they had seen and heard. The magi shared the news and witnessed in their land to the birth of a new king. The first disciples and those who came to believe in Christ through meeting Jesus himself or hearing the witness of the apostles risked their lives to tell the story and call others to follow. And faithful people from generation to generation passed on their faith so that we also came to know what happened in Bethlehem so long ago.
I read another online comment recently from a Mennonite pastor in Ontario which got me thinking about transformation. He wrote: “A Thought Experiment: Imagine yourself if you weren’t following Jesus. Are you basically the same person? Then you aren’t following Jesus.”
Remember how much those parents’ lives changed when they welcomed a child? Remember how much your life changed if you are a parent yourself? Welcoming God into our human world, and into our individual lives should be at least that radically transforming. It should change our schedules, our responsibilities, our priorities, our focus.
It should bring with it both cares and concerns for our neighbours and the troubles of our world, as well as joy beyond compare and peace that surpasses all understanding because we know that we are God’s beloved children and we are always in God’s care.
Like the shepherds in our skit tonight, we are invited to drink in the experience of God coming to us as a tiny child. We are given this time to ponder what that means… that in the midst of this crazy world and our often chaotic lives, God loves us so much that God came to us in such vulnerability.
God loves you that much… not only so much that he came… but that he lived, and taught, and healed, and loved, and welcomed, and risked, and died, and was raised again. God loves you so much that God poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit… God’s continuing presence, help, and inspiration for our lives as Jesus’ followers.
And God loves you so much that even when things seem to be at their worst, when the world and your life seem to be spinning out of control, God promises that Christ will come again, and the world will be set right, and all will be well.
Like the shepherds, we are invited to the experience of worshipping the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. And we are invited to let the Christ child transform our lives… to send us out in love, in mission, in generosity, and in joy.
With the psalmist, let us praise!
1O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
5For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
6Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
10Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
11Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.