Christmas Eve – Monday, December 24, 2018, 4pm

December 24, 2018  

Luke 2: 1-7

You have all been invited to Bethlehem.

No invitations were sent.
No “event” was planned and posted on Facebook.
You won’t read about it in the newspaper— under the “Community Events” or “Happening Today” sections.

You HAVE all been invited to Bethlehem.
To the place of Jesus’ birth.
To the city of David.

The word “Bethlehem” is most often translated “house of bread.”
I found a few other options for translation.
“Bethlehem” might mean “house of food.”
“Bethlehem” might mean “house of “fighting.”
“Bethlehem” might mean “house of the god Lahamu.” (“Bethlehem” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 394).
Wikipedia suggests Bethlehem was, in the 13th century BC named after the Canaanite God Lehem—who was a fertility God. We all know the value of Wikipedia so I’ll just let that option go…

Which still leaves us with some curiously diverse, options.

Let’s consider the “house of the god Lahamu.” An unexpected option—it is possible the city of Bethlehem was named after this god from 12 century BC Mesopotamian mythology. Lahamu has a twin brother, both of whom were believed to be “the first gods to be born from the chaos that was created by the merging of the water deep beneath the earth and the salt waters” (“Lahmu and Lahamu” Encyclopedia Brittanica online). Although it would be fun to explore modern day Bethlehem with this option in mind—it isn’t really relevant to our holiday celebration. So—we’ll let this one go, too.

Onto a 3rd option: that Bethlehem might mean the “house of fighting.”
This gives me pause.
Because it was established between the 13-12th centuries BC means the city has a lot of history—which includes a history of destruction and revolution.
The city was destroyed in the 2nd century, then rebuilt in the third. Parts were destroyed in the 6th century, then re-built in the 7th. The city’s walls were destroyed in the 13th century, then re-built during the 16th. The city was controlled by the Ottomans, then the British at the end of World War 1. Then the Arab-Israeli War in 1948 gave control to the Jordanians. Bethlehem was captured by Israel during the 6-Day war of 1967. Since 1995 Bethlehem has been administered by the Palestinian Authority. (All info from “Bethlehem” Wikipedia).

“Today, the city is surrounded by two bypass roads for settlers, leaving the inhabitants squeezed between 37 Jewish enclaves, where a quarter of all West Bank settlers, roughly 170,000 live, and the gap between the two roads closed by the 8-metre high Israeli West Bank barrier, which cuts Bethlehem off from its sister city Jerusalem” (“Bethlehem” Wikipedia).

“The house of fighting” may well be apt.
What does it mean that Jesus was born here? Where, since his birth, destruction and wars have raged. Where conflict simmers…

“Bethlehem” may mean the “house of food.” I found another translation that says that, in Arabic, it means “the house of meat” (Wikipedia). As our most common meaning is that it is “the house of bread,” (Interpreter’s Dictionary…) I’m thinking that, when we take the food metaphors and combine them with the “house of fighting” we are left with: (drum roll) a food fight. Who knew I’d be talking about food fights on Christmas Eve.

This does all mean something.
The world Jesus was born into was a world already struggling, already conflicted. His years on this earth brought with them misunderstandings (in Nazareth), disagreements (with church leaders), and political threat (think about Herold, think about Pilate having Jesus hung on a cross for claiming he was the king of the Jews).
The world ever since—has not changed. Conflict. War. Destruction. Conflict. War. Destruction. Distrust. Nuclear warfare. Nuclear threat. Fences. Walls.

And here we sit—with an invitation to Bethlehem.
We’ve been invited to the City of David. Where Christ was born.
This child. This baby. Entered a world of sin. He entered a world of conflict. Jesus came to bring peace. Jesus came; God’s gift of love.

Jesus needed to be born.
Jesus needs to be born again. Born in our hearts to live in and through us.

Meister Eckhart said “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” (“mothers of god” InterruptingtheSilence.com).

When Jesus is born in us we bring his peace to a world of conflict and war.
When Jesus is born in us we bring his love to a world of hatred and distrust.
When Jesus is born in us we bring his joy to the suffering and to the lost and to those who are struggling in our midst.
When Jesus is born in us we bring his hope to a world so often despairing, to individual people who despair.

We are called to bring Jesus to the “Bethlehems” of our time. We bring Jesus to the houses of bread and meat. We bring Jesus to the house of fighting. We bring Jesus to our cities, to our nation, to our world—radically proclaiming his words of peace and love and reconciliation.

We are called, as followers of Jesus, not to just visit Bethlehem but to transform Bethlehem.

We can do this.
If a child born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes could bring salvation to the world, what can’t WE do?
What can’t we hope?
What can’t we trust?
“We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord” (Apostles Creed).
And so we come to Bethlehem this evening. We come to the City of David.
And then we go… believing in the power of the Christ Child.
Amen.