On a short list of all-time favorite Christmas hymns, you’ll find the simple song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. The Reverend Phillip Brooks composed this song shortly after he visited the city of Bethlehem in 1865. This year, as I sang the familiar tune on Christmas Eve, my heart skipped a beat. I caught my breath as I realized that I was only days away from walking in that same little town of Bethlehem where “the hopes and fears of all the years were met” on that first Christmas night.
My husband James and I will be traveling to Israel and Palestine with Wartburg Theological Seminary, following in the footsteps of countless pilgrims over centuries and centuries. I am not sure what to expect. Will I come home inspired to write a children’s Christmas song destined to become a perennial favorite? I doubt it. But what I do pray will happen is already captured in this line of that favorite song: “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
Be born in us today. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a small family and a few shepherds, long ago on a different side of the planet. But Christ is born in us today. If Christ is not born in us today, then we miss the whole point of Christmas. Bethlehem held the hopes and fears of all the years because it marked the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. This mystery which we celebrate is that the incarnational God can (and indeed must) be born in us today. The Christ is born into each person, each time, each culture and every story. You birth Christ into your work, your family, your world. When we acknowledge this, then and I think only then, we can begin to understand what happened in Bethlehem on that starry night, so long ago.