O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie.
These familiar words were written by Philip Brooks in 1868 following a visit to Bethlehem. While the words, “how still we see thee lie” certainly had application to that evening in 1868, it had little to do with the time Jesus was born.
Bethlehem of Judea, described by the prophet Micah, was “the least” among the cities of the region. It was hardly a city, but more a hamlet or village. Certainly Bethlehem was not a commercial or marketing center, but more of a layover for travelers on the way to the Holy City.
The time of Jesus’ birth, during the census being mandated by the Roman authorities, would have found Bethlehem a place of chaos and turmoil. It would have been struggling with overloaded housing accommodations and the throng of travelers making their way to Jerusalem for the census.
We get our modern term “bedlam” from a corruption of the name of a hospital founded in 1245. It became a hospital to treat the mentally insane called “Our Lady of Bethlehem,” shortened later to “Bethlem,” and finally referred to simply as “Bedlam.”
Though there is no Biblical record of an innkeeper turning Mary and Joseph away, it may have been that they settled for one of the many shelters carved from rock out of the hillsides outside the city. These were the “barns” of the day where animals would be sheltered. It was likely there that Mary gave birth to the Christ child.
And it was there, in the midst of “bedlam,” that our Savior came. Not in the serene silence of a winter night but within the sight and sound of human chaos, pain, and turmoil. Not separated from our pain, our stresses, and our despair but in the midst of it.
And that is where He meets us even today.
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in…
“But to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God.”
FOR REFLECTION: As Christmas Eve has arrived find a still and quiet moment to bow in gratitude for the gift of God’s Son.