He was born of a virgin, so we are told.
The angel of the Lord visited Mary and divine conception occurred, so we are told. The virgin birth is difficult for many to believe. It defies nature, biology. It is simply not the way things happen. Conception and birth are as a result of the very best of female and male. So, you either believe in the virgin birth or you don’t. Christians, real Christians do. And so do I and I hope you.
Bethlehem, where once HE was born was then Bethlehem of Judea. It is now Bethlehem as part of Palestine. It is so very different even though the place where he was born continues to be celebrated by the Church of the Nativity. Jesus was Jew, fully Jewish and Bethlehem no longer reflects that. That is most unfortunate and sad to see.
We are told that Jesus as child, teenager and young adult lived a sinless, blameless life. This God-man was able to do that even though so many find that hard to believe. But Christians do believe that, real Christians do, and I hope you do.
We know little of his early years. The son of a carpenter, the Lord of Glory was a carpenter by trade. Nazareth where he lived and built has like Bethlehem radically changed. It is Arab and Islam influenced and in many ways dominated and so much that was Jewish of old is long gone. It is difficult as the old hymn states to WALK WHERE JESUS WALKED. Those little lanes have in fact changed and really not for the better. Perhaps the sweet peace that once filled the air was real then, but there is anything but peace as the century’s old hatred between Arab and Jew festers and so often boils over. Perhaps it is only this carpenter from Nazareth who built so many things could rebuild, restore and reborn peace, real peace between Arab and Jew through his love. Nazareth, Bethlehem and the world sorely need just that.
The Galilee where Jesus of Nazareth conducted so much of his ministry and performed his memorable miracles has also radically changed. It is modernized in so many ways. The City of Tiberias which surrounds the Sea of Galilee is modern on the one hand, wealthy and thriving in part but on the other broken, poverty ridden and anxious. The city seems very much in need of the carpenter from Nazareth who walked on the Sea of Galilee. How wonderful it would be if those marvelous miracles of old could once again transform, born again the place where he lived and the people that he loved.
So often, the carpenter from Nazareth and the CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS went up from to Jerusalem to fellowship and worship at the temple. Much of the Jerusalem HE knew has changed. Much is modern, commercial and much is not Jewish as he was. There is significant Arab and Muslim influence. The Temple Mount where the temple of the great G-d Jehovah once stood is now controlled by Arabs and Muslims. On that once holy Jewish site stand the mosques Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. To visit the Temple Mount as I recently did is to feel the tension between Muslim and Jew, and in fact Muslim and all others. The peace which passes all understanding which HE brought is nowhere to be found. The love of the BABE OF BETHLEHEM has been replaced by war, hatred and vengeance, so much vengeance. There is, as HE asked, no love for an enemy or even peace. There is only détente, reluctant acceptance of a temporary truce enforced with tension and military presence. The joy the three wise men felt as they gave gifts to him in Bethlehem is long gone. Watchmen on the walls watch not for HIM but for the coming of the enemy. Gold, frankincense and myrrh have been replaced by uranium, chemical warfare and poisonous gas. Love offerings have been replaced by suicide bombings. The good tidings of great joy which once emanated from Bethlehem have been replaced by the sirens which trumpet more war at work. Jerusalem, like all of Israel has changed. Yet Jews and Christians everywhere pray for the:
PEACE OF JERUSALEM
And Israel, and the world. But THE PRINCE OF PEACE is nowhere to be found in the land or in their hearts. There can be no peace, sayeth the Scriptures, old and new without the Messiah. Christians believe that Messiah has come, born in Bethlehem in Judea and faithful Jews wait for HIM to come for the first time. What a different world it would be, and what a different Jerusalem it would be if mankind allowed the Prince of Peace to gather all under His wings, as he prayed and heal the world (Jews call it Tikkun Olam) as only HE can. Christians, real Christians believe the Messiah has come and will come again. The Babe of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christmas is in fact that Messiah, so Christians believe.
Anti-Semitism, as hateful as anything on this earth, is once again on the rise. It is everywhere, even in our very own open-minded country. Europe is awash in Anti-Jewish hatred and action. Jihadist Islam is on the march, to exterminate the Jews once and for all, to finish as one a valid jihadist said the work that Hitler never completed. And of course, with the extermination of the Jews, so would jihadists exterminate Christians and all other religionists who would not convert to Islam and exchange the G-d Jehovah for that of Allah. And of course, the exchange the Christ of Christmas for the Prophet Mohammad. For, to exterminate the Jews is to eradicate Jesus of Nazareth, Himself a Jew. Perhaps because Jesus was in fact Jewish there is now even more hatred and Anti-Christian sentiment the world over. It is indeed a time for realignment, for standing together, especially for all things Judeo-Christian, so severely attacked and protect and defend the faith. In so much of the world, freedom of religion requires the protection of the military, as in Bethlehem of Judea. The Church of the Nativity and its environs are protected by Bethlehem police, Palestinian soldiers and even the Israeli Defense Force. Guns protect and allow the giving of alms. How ironic but a way of life in this day and age, in this Anti-Semitic day and age. The love and the peace which emanated from Bethlehem 2,000 years ago seems long gone. But it is still there. It can live among mankind or in their hearts. The power of the peace of the Babe of Bethlehem is still available and can change lives and even whole nations. If only, as little children, we could open our hearts to love and peace and to HIM, the world could in fact be changed. That is the promise of His birth in Bethlehem.
And so we watched the return of the Jews to Israel, so many of them, the great Aliyah. There is the fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Amos who said:
“I WILL BRING MY PEOPLE ISRAEL BACK FROM EXILE. THEY WILL REBUILD THE RUINED CITIES AND LIVE IN THEM. THEY WILL PLANT VINEYARDS AND DRINK THEIR WINE. THEY WILL MAKE GARDENS AND EAT THEIR FRUIT. I WILL PLANT ISRAEL IN THEIR OWN LAND, NEVER AGAIN TO BE UPROOTED FROM THE LAND I HAVE GIVEN THEM, SAYS YAHWEH YOUR GOD.”
That is now happening. We should rejoice as the Scriptures are fulfilled, especially we who are Gentile. In fact, we should be reminded that God intends to use Gentiles to help fulfill that promise and we are reminded of the words of Isaiah who said:
“SEE, I WILL BECKON TO THE GENTILES. I WILL LIFT UP MY BANNER TO THE PEOPLES. THEY WILL BRING YOUR SONS IN THEIR ARMS AND CARRY YOUR DAUGHTERS ON THEIR SHOULDERS.”
What a privilege is ours as Christians and Gentiles to help return the Chosen People to the Promised Land. The motivating force for the reuniting, the bonding and standing together of Christian and Jew is the love of the Babe of Bethlehem. It is that love which started in a manger centuries ago which alone can unite and put an end once and for all to Anti-Semitism and in fact all evil and hatred.
So, it is the peace of God which passes all understanding and we should never forget the words from the Torah, the Book of Numbers which reminds us that only:
Can bless you and keep you. Only Yahweh can make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. Only Yahweh can turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Only HE can.
Love indeed came down at Christmas, love so divine. Those who believe shout hallelujah, the Lord is come. Let our hearts be filled with joy and praise at this wonderful season. No matter the wars and rumors of wars, let us luxuriate in His peace, and His Love and like little children as He once was, open our hearts to that love divine so that we can in fact say with the angels of old:
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOODWILL TOWARD ALL MANKIND
Perhaps none on this earth want peace more than Israelis. They live with the motto NEVER AGAIN. They will protect and defend against any enemy. They will never forget, never ever. But they, like all mankind, should never forget what happened in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. There was a man, a Jew who changed the world then and can do it now. And that man was and is:
THE BABE OF BETHLEHEM
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward all mankind at Christmastime and: