In 1954, Perry Como released a Christmas song that reached #8 on the record charts. The lyrics are still familiar over five decades later:
Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
‘cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.
Americans agree with Como’s sentiments. According to AAA, last year over 65 million people traveled 50+ miles away from home over Christmas and New Year’s. Many of us were among that number.
The holidays can become a logistical nightmare of travel plans and itineraries. We split our time between family and friends, in-laws and outlaws, blended and unblended families. Our families have become like an order of hash browns at Waffle House: scattered, covered, and smothered!
In the midst of the holiday madness, consider a change in your travel plans. Include a trip to Bethlehem in your Christmas itinerary. During this holiest of seasons, let us begin to make our way to the manger.
In 1743, John Wade published a hymn that invites us to the city of Jesus’ birth:
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and behold him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
As we travel to Bethlehem, we will be amazed at those who have gone before us. According to Luke’s gospel, Joseph and Mary first made the trip because Caesar Augustus demanded a census of the entire Roman Empire. So the Holy Couple traveled to the home town of Joseph’s family. When they arrived, there was no room in the inn, so they settled into a small stable.
The actual account of the Christ’s child’s birth is told in a few short verses. Matthew simply says: Mary gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1: 25). Luke writes: While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger . . . . (Luke 2: 6-7)
The Nativity is a simple scene with only Mary, Joseph, and their newborn baby present. Contrary to popular belief, the Gospel writers don’t even mention an assortment of barnyard animals at the stable. However, the Holy Family was not alone. The host of heaven gathered that night to witness the Word of God made flesh. Cosmic events set into motion since Eden’s Garden were coming to fruition that night in Bethlehem.
When Peter wrote about Christ’s incarnation in his first letter to the church, he declared that even angels long to peer into these things. (1 Peter 1: 12) Unseen by human eyes, the angelic chorus that proclaimed the Messiah’s birth gathered around the manger in wonder and awe. Their words echo in the carol:
Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!
The shepherds were the first to hear the angels’ news. They crowded into the stable, smelling of campfire smoke, damp wool, and long days in the fields. Then the shepherds returned to their flocks, glorifying God for what they had witnessed. Months—or even years—later the magi also arrived from the Far East with their extraordinary gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We too are called to kneel at the manger in wonder and awe. Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord! May you have a grace-filled Christmas.