“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod” (Matthew 2:1)
This week we celebrate Christmas – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We will gather in our churches. We will gather in our homes. We will gather at schools to watch children recreate the Nativity. We will gather in front of our television sets to watch Scrooges, and Elves, and Grinches. But no matter where we gather, let us not forget the single most important place in the world for our hearts to gather. I’m talking about Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is one of the most sacred places on the face of the earth. Not only because our Savior was born there, but because Bethlehem has always been special – even before Christ’s birth. The ancient rabbis record that in the days of the second Temple, the only place where one could shepherd a flock was in the wilderness. However, there was one exception to that rule. That exception was the lambs that were specifically appointed and destined for the Temple sacrifices. They had to be set apart, because they had to be kept in close proximity to the Holy City of Jerusalem. This was done in order to keep them flawless for the sacrifice they were to become in the Temple. But where would that place be? One particular region of Israel, not in the wilderness, but in the hills and valleys, was chosen for the selected lambs to be kept. That special region was seven miles to the south of Jerusalem. It was called the town of Bethlehem.
And that is why God moved heaven and earth to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, so that Jesus Christ could be birthed there. The Lamb of God was designated to be born in the place where all sacrificial lambs were born. The lambs set apart for God.
But there’s even more to the story. When these lambs who were set apart for sacrifice in Bethlehem were born, they were accompanied by chosen shepherds who were designated to watch over them. God needed shepherds to watch over his most sacred sacrifice. And shepherds he got. He sent an angel, in fact an entire host of angels, and startled some herdsmen who were sitting around with their sheep. And so, the first ones who came to see Jesus needed to be the shepherds who would accompany the sacrificial Lamb of God.
Jesus had to fulfill every detail that was required for the lambs set apart to be sacrificed to God. Born in Bethlehem. Accompanied by shepherds. Then sent to Jerusalem to be the propitiation for our sins. God left no detail untouched. So, as you gather and celebrate Christmas this week, don’t forget to take time to contemplate the important details of Christ’s hometown.