Why Bethlehem?

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Only once have I been moved to write poetry. Two years ago, for a sermon during the Christmas season, I pursued a biblical answer to a Christmas conundrum: Why Bethlehem?

Some 700 years before Jesus would be born, a prophet named Micah announced that a ruler of Israel would come, not from Jerusalem, but from the little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Israel’s chief priests and Bible experts during the reign of Herod the Great recognized this announcement as the location of the birth of the Jewish Messiah. Non-Jewish magi from far away, some grungy shepherds, and a carpenter from Nazareth and his young wife knew that the Messiah had indeed been born in Bethlehem. Reflecting on this surprising fact, I composed the following poem.

Princes are born in palaces,

Unless you’re the Prince of Princes;

A meager manger will do.

Not gemstones, silver, or gold,

Like the glorious kings of old;

Instead, wood, hay, and straw

Decorate the nursery of the Ruler Over All.

Princes are born in palaces,

Unless you’re the Son of God;

Can any house really contain you?

Perhaps the temple in Jerusalem,

Or David’s royal house?

Not the house of God, but the house of bread—

Bethlehem Ephrathah, the smallest house of all!

Princes are born in palaces,

Unless you’re the King of the Jews;

No proper place to lay your royal head.

Always on the move you’ll be,

From Egypt to Nazareth, throughout Galilee,

To Samaria and the Decapolis, and on to God’s own city,

Where you will lay your royal head to rest.

Princes are born in palaces,

Unless you’re the Savior of the World,

Doomed to die for others’ crimes.

Crowned with thorns, robed in blood,

Pierced, crushed, dead—all for sinners’ good.

“Vict’ry through your death,” the empty tomb proclaims!

Now the Prince has his palace—a new creation filled with his friends.

In the sermon I preached, I’m not sure I answered the question I had puzzled over. Nevertheless, it’s fitting, poetic even, that “the bread of life” (John 6:35) came from a city whose name means “house of bread.”

Mr. Justin Langley is Minister of Discipleship of Kilgore Bible Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.kilgorebiblechurch.org.

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