But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. [Micah 5:2 (NLT)]

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means “God is with us”). [Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)]

One December evening several years ago, we walked the streets of Bethlehem. Instead of travelling to the Holy Land, however, we traveled back in time at a local church. Our journey began with a stroll through the Christmas story. We walked past Gabriel meeting with Mary, an angel visiting the sleeping Joseph, the shepherds and sheep, Joseph and a very pregnant Mary in a stable, and met the Magi with their camels and gifts. We then went inside the parish hall to the bustling city of Bethlehem. As required by the emperor, we stopped to register for the census and pay our taxes before moving through the crowded marketplace to the shops of the wine merchant, carpenter, leather worker, and oil and spice dealers. After pausing to watch mud bricks being made and fabric being dyed, a young boy took us on a tour through his 1st century Jewish home.

As congested as the area was, we nearly missed our last stop—Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son. Of course, we had an advantage over the people of Bethlehem because we knew the significance of that baby born so many years ago—He was the promised Messiah! Knowing the significance of His birth, we looked for Him.

Although the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was written over a period of 1000 years and completed several hundred years before the 1st century, 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, when God Himself took on human flesh over 2,000 years ago, they were too busy in the streets of Bethlehem to notice His arrival. Other than a few shepherds, no one else observed anything special that night. More than a month later, it only was Anna and Simeon who recognized the infant Messiah at Mary’s purification ceremony in Jerusalem. It was almost two years later when some foreign wise men (who’d been following an astronomical phenomenon) brought gifts and worshipped the long-awaited child. With all those prophecies, why weren’t the people of Judah ready and waiting?

Once we walked out the back door of the parish hall, we returned to the 21st century with its Christmas carols, chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, and a machine pumping out artificial snow to squeals of delight from the Florida children. Let us never forget, however, that the story isn’t over. There are still many unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible regarding Christ’s second coming. The people of Bethlehem weren’t ready for His first arrival; will we be ready for His second one?

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready. [Luke 12:35-38 (NLT)]

So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return. [Matthew 25:13 (NLT)]

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