O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:2 (NIV)

Several years ago, I participated in a pilgrimage to Israel where I saw the major sites of Christendom and rubbed shoulders with Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Kurds. In this complex smidgeon of real estate about the size of Rhode Island, one can drive from one side of the country to the other in less time than it takes to get from San Antonio to Austin. And yet, so much of our faith was birthed in this tiny land.

At Bethlehem I waited inside the crumbling Byzantine Church of the Nativity with throngs of pilgrims to see the spot where Jesus was welcomed into the world by his mother Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. There was a large group of Japanese faithful who waited with us for a glimpse of the holy site. Down the narrow stairway amid flickering candlelight, I spoke with Romanian Christians who had come thousands of miles to sing hymns and worship the One who had been born to take away the sins of the world. There were Orthodox believers who gathered in another corner to venerate a beautiful icon representing Mary and the Christ Child.

We were a potpourri of wayfarers at the same sacred spot at a unique moment in time.  We looked and dressed differently from one another and were a polyglot of persons, but we were united in our longing to ponder and be present at the place of his incarnation. And outside, a few of us lingered to visit with the radiant little Muslim schoolgirls who had come to greet visitors and to practice their English. “What is your name?” they asked and giggled at our responses.

What will it be like on the day when “a great multitude that no one [can] count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” gather together for worship?

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Father, at Advent our hearts wait in anticipation for the day you will bring your children together and when we all will be one in you. Let your love flow out of us to embrace those who do not yet know you, and may we gently invite them to join us in your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Emmanuel. AMEN.

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