But you, Bethlehem, David’s country, the runt of the litter—From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel. He’ll be no upstart, no pretender. His family tree is ancient and distinguished. [Micah 5:2 (MSG)]
So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. [Luke 2:4-7a (MSG)]
Last year, we walked the streets of Bethlehem at Christmastime. No, we didn’t travel to the Holy Land; we traveled back in time at a local church. We began our journey with a stroll through the Christmas story. After walking past Gabriel with Mary, an angel visiting the sleeping Joseph, the shepherds and sheep, Joseph and a pregnant Mary in the stable, and the Magi with their camels and gifts, we went inside the parish hall to the bustling city of Bethlehem. As required by the emperor, our first stop was to register for the census and pay our taxes. We then moved through the crowded marketplace to the shops of the wine merchant, carpenter, leather worker and oil and spice dealer. We stopped to watch mud bricks being made and fabric being dyed. A young boy even took us on a tour through his typical Jewish home. As congested as the area was, we nearly missed our last stop: the stable where Joseph and Mary sat with their newborn son. Most of the crowd paused to see the baby and chat with his parents, but we had an advantage over the people of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago—we knew the significance of Jesus’ birth and they didn’t. Other than a few shepherds, no one noticed anything special that night. More than a month later, at Mary’s purification ceremony, both Anna and Simeon recognized the infant Messiah and, almost two years later, some foreign wise men brought gifts and worshipped the child. The people of Bethlehem (and the rest of the world), however, totally missed the most significant event in history.
Although the Old Testament was written over a period of 1000 years and completed several hundred years before the time of Christ, it contained over 300 prophecies of the coming Messiah. The Israelites had centuries to prepare for their savior and all those prophecies to alert them, but they were too busy to notice the Messiah’s arrival.
Walking out the back door of the parish hall, we returned to the 21st century complete with Christmas carols, chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, and a machine pumping out artificial snow to the delight of the Florida children. Let us never forget, however, that there are many still unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible regarding Christ’s second coming. The people of Bethlehem weren’t ready His first arrival; will the people of the 21st century be ready for the second one?