O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
The town of Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus. Presently, it’s population is around 29,000 which is four times what it was in 1948 when Israel became a nation and probably fifteen times what it was when Jesus was born.
It is called the City of David. It was in Bethlehem that Jacob buried Rachel. And it was in Bethlehem that Ruth lived and married Boaz. But to most Jews the very name Bethlehem was synonymous with King David, who was born and raised in Bethlehem. So, it was here in this little town, five miles from Jerusalem, that Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born. Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.
Now, King Herod, also known as Herod the Great, wasn’t perfect but he wasn’t entirely bad either. Herod was half Jew and half Gentile. He is known for humungous building projects throughout Judea, including his renovation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the expansion of the Temple Mount, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the construction of the port at Caesarea Martima, the fortress at Masada, and Herodium.
The title Herod the Great wasn’t simply an empty title, he kept peace in Palestine throughout his reign which was not an easy feat. In the year 12 BC he underwrote the cost of the Olympic games in Greece and was named the games “Perpetual President.”
And he wasn’t all bad as a politician. During the lean years he stopped collecting taxes. How’s that for an economic stimulus package? In 24 BC, he had his gold plates melted down to buy corn for the poor.
On the down side, he did have one tiny, little problem. Face it. We all have one problem or another, don’t we? Herod’s was that he kept killing people. Not just anyone. Just anyone he thought might be a threat to his position of power. He was insanely suspicious and paranoid. The older he got the more suspicious he got. He was referred to as a “Murderous Old Man.”
During his reign, he had his wife, Mariamne, executed along with her mother Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater, his middle son Alexander and his third son Aristobulus. Caesar Augustus stated at one point, “It is safer to be Herod’s pig then to be his son.”
When he was 70, he felt that he was near the end and he retired to Jerico and had some of the most notable and distinguished citizens of Jerusalem arrested on trumped up charges. On his orders, they were slaughtered at the moment of his death. Herod knew how people felt about him and he said that he was determined to have tears shed at his death. It worked.
And so, it was this man who was told about the one who would become King of the Jews. Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
The Bible says in Matthew 2:3, King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this. I think that could have been an understatement. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The first gift was gold, to remind us that Christ is not just the Savior but he is also king. Not one who rules by force but one who rules by love.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Matthew 2:16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
The only thing that saved Jesus was that an Angel visited Joseph. Matthew 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.
During the second Sunday of Advent, we remember that God gave us His only Son, to live among us as a human, suffering as we do. And He loved us so much that he sacrificed His Son so that we may all have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned (John 3:16-18). Today we thank you for your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. We who have sat in darkness have seen a great light, the light of Jesus Christ, our salvation.
The Candle of Bethlehem, the Love Candle, is a symbol of God’s love, that He sent His Son to live among us and die for our salvation.