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When I was growing up, my family would occasionally drive across the state line into Pennsylvania. I used to be intrigued by a road sign pointing the way to Bethlehem. It seemed special in my young mind to imagine living so close to such an important place.
Full disclosure: The sign was actually for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This, of course, is not the birthplace of Jesus, but it was the birthplace of Lewis David von Schweinitz, the Father of American Mycology (your guess of what mycology is, is as good as mine… that is where my Google search ended).
A desire to see that first Bethlehem, inspires people to journey to the Holy Land every year (even in our COVID world). They watch the shepherds on the hillsides.
They see the streets and the scenery.
They visit the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, the Church of the Nativity. Being close to Bethlehem is like being close to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.
In 1865, Phillips Brooks, was one such traveler. He boarded a boat from Philadelphia and journeyed to the other side of the world.
It was a long journey, but he arrived in Bethlehem in time for Christmas.
He sat in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, and attended a five-hour candle lit service. (If you think that that is a long time to sit in church, consider that Brooks was almost 6 feet and 6 inches and weighed 300 pounds.)
Yet the night was not unbearable for him; it was wonderful.
Years later, he would reflect on that night in the words of a poem. “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie; Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.”
Bethlehem is a special place, but thankfully you and I don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to meet Jesus.
Bethlehem is not his permanent address. Jesus is “Emmanuel” – which means “God with us” – whether we find ourselves in Bethlehem, Israel; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; or Chrisman, Illinois. Jesus came to meet us where we are. We are never really that far from Him.
I pray that you meet Jesus this Christmas. His is the greatest friendship you will ever experience.
“No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
(Biographical information from Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan, pages 166-167.)