A Journey to Bethlehem | An Advent Devotional
For many of us, 2020 won’t be a normal Christmas. There are restrictions on who we can meet. There are limits on how far we can travel. There are rules about how close we can get to our loved ones.
But there is one tradition above all that we cannot do without this Christmas. It is, in the words from the famous service of Carols from Kings College Cambridge, to:
prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even
unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Go unto Bethlehem
If you were to ask the Gospel-writer Matthew how you ought to celebrate Christmas, he would invite you to make a journey to Bethlehem. He would show you a city far removed from the idyllic scenes of a snowy English village that we often imagine as the Nativity scene. Instead, you would find that Jesus was born into a dark and dangerous world, not unlike our own.
That is the journey the Magi made in Matthew chapter 2. They had found that all of their worldly learning, their power and prestige was not enough to satisfy them. They recognised the darkness of the world and were longing for hope to break into it.
When they saw shining in the night’s sky they followed it all the way to Bethlehem. There they found, at the birth of Jesus, that the Light of the world had broken into the darkness. The promise of Christmas is that the same light shines for us today if we will go to Bethlehem and meet Jesus there.
"There is a King on the throne
and that King is not us!"
Submit to the King
Not everybody wants to visit Bethlehem, however. On their journey, the Magi visited King Herod who immediately began plotting Jesus’ death. They heard from the religious leaders who did not go to Bethlehem themselves despite knowing that the Messiah’s birth had been prophesied there.
Things are no different today. Some stand in opposition to Jesus while others are indifferent towards him. But if the events of 2020 have taught us anything it is that there is a King on the throne and that King is not us! We must recognise him as King and respond to him rightly.
As the Magi went to Bethlehem they did not see Jesus as a threat or as an inconvenience. When they saw him for who he really is they bowed down before him in submission to him. It is the only right response to the news that the true King has come.
Offer your gifts
The gospel always gives us something to believe and something to do. At the end of their journey, the Magi turned their worship of Jesus into an offer of devotion towards him. They gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The gifts themselves tell us something of Jesus’ identity and his mission. Gold was royal, fit for a king. Frankincense was used by the priest in the temple, representing the drawing near of God to humankind. Myrrh was used to embalm the dead, prefiguring Jesus’ death even at his birth.
In the Magi, we see what it looks like to respond to Jesus’ call. It is to offer our gifts to him in service, even at great cost. Jesus is the Messiah - God’s anointed King who has come to save his people and to bring light into darkness. Of all that we have, what wouldn’t we bring to him? What couldn’t we bring to him?
Amid the turmoil of 2020, don’t miss out on the greatest journey you could make this Christmas. Let us go even unto Bethlehem. Let us bow our knees in submission to the King who was born there. And let us offer our gifts in his service, to his praise and glory.
By Alastair Gledhill