Big gifts in small packages

What happened in Bethlehem transformed our lives, and we revel in this season of celebration and commemoration.

By ELWOOD MCQUAID
December 24, 2007 19:09
3 minute read.
bethlehem christmas 298

bethlehem christmas 248 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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Nearly three decades ago, very early on a December morning, I stood looking out the window of my hotel room in Jerusalem. It was nearing Christmas Eve, and I was wrapping up my research and writing to head home for the holidays. I vividly remember seeing a single star in the burgeoning morning sky and a string of Christmas lights dangling from the YMCA building below. Otherwise the city was relatively dark and quiet. Twelve hours later, I was being shuttled by helicopter from Kennedy to LaGuardia Airport over New York City. Below me was a stunning display of multicolored lights that seemed to stretch for miles. It was Christmas, and the Big Apple was appropriately dressed for the occasion. Looking back, I find a sort of nostalgia in the imagery. And though I am not a man given to fanciful fits of symbolism, this imagery seems perfectly appropriate and makes a cogent point for all of us. From the small window of my hotel overlooking the YMCA in Jerusalem, a single band of lights betokened a small beginning. How small? Try the size of a baby, a manger, and a stable-cave in a little town we know as Bethlehem - an obscure village in Jewish Judea. Gaudy though it may be, the sea of Christmas finery illuminating New York, the hinterlands of America, and the entire Western world declares resoundingly that the smallest beginning sometimes produces the greatest result. In this case, Christmas represents a triumph of faith so monumental that no one could have predicted it. No one, that is, beside the seers of ancient Israel who scanned the corridors of centuries yet unborn to tell us exactly what to expect and what the final outcome would be. CONSIDER the universal Gentile condition before Bethlehem. The New Testament puts it this way: "You [Gentiles] were … aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). And so it was. Dust off the pages of antiquity and view the evidence. Collectively, we Gentiles were more akin to the Canaanites than to people of progress and enlightenment. Thus, whatever contemporary neo-pagans tell us about the nobility of the "enlightened" heathen, more than 2 billion people worldwide - a full 30 percent of the world's population - contradict them by professing Christianity as the source of their spiritual enlightenment. And let's be clear about it. If there had been no holy night in Bethlehem, we would still be staggering beneath the weight of debilitating, hedonistic, pagan degeneracy. To those attempting to craft a return to the old ways, we say, "Count us out." Humanity traveled that road from the dawn of time, and we don't need to make the same mistakes all over again. For true believers, the aggregate promises of the Older Testament coalesce around one magnificent tower of truth. It is said beautifully in Micah 5:2: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting." For people like me, that small beginning in the hamlet of Bethlehem transformed our lives. And we revel in this season of celebration and commemoration. Without Bethlehem, there would be no Christians, no Gentile Zionist believers, virtually no real friends of Israel, and few who would dare take sides with the beleaguered and buffeted people of the Book. So let the grinches, grouches, grumblers, and humbuggers pout their way through the season. As for me, I'll drive through a neighborhood filled with garish inflated snowmen, Rudolphs, and other decorations better left boxed and never blink in derision. For I know how all of this came to be. As misguided as the glitz may seem, there's more to it than what appears. There's the substance of the faith true Christians have in common. It all began 2,000 years ago in the land of Abraham's children. And if we fail to grasp all that we have garnered through that spectacular moment of divine intervention, we've missed the essence of what being a Christian is all about. Because of that small beginning in a stable in a faraway land, I can in all sincerity say to you, "Merry Christmas!" The writer, a pastor, is a leader of the Christian Zionist movement.

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