Written in 1816, the song SILENT NIGHT is one of the most recognized Christmas songs of all time. Throughout the years it has conveyed a message of peace and hope and has become the song of choice for closing candlelight services on Christmas eve in most churches. Written by a priest as he was looking over the quietness and serenity of a small town after a service he wrote the song as a depiction of Bethlehem as the Christ child was born.
For years, this song was my and probably your idealistic view of Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus. This view was further reinforced by the many movies and church plays done about the birth of Jesus. But was it really that silent and was it really that peaceful?
Let's first consider the trip to Bethlehem. According to stcatherinercc.org the distance from Nazarath to Bethlehem is around 70 miles. Further, their research shows that this journey could be covered on foot in about 4 days by accomplishing 20 miles a day in travel.
With this in mind let's consider the circumstances. The path was hilly with a portion of the path being beside the Jordan River. While the path may have provided for a smoother than expected travel, The conditions of such travel would have brought stress. Not only was Mary in the latter stage of pregnancy, other safety concerns were present. From sickness, to injury to highway robbers, the journey was by no means like a trip to the local market. It was most likely stressful and exhausting.
Once in Bethlehem, the couple would seek immediate lodging for rest. However in Luke:4.7, we are told that Mary gave birth and laid the Baby in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn. Here is where my analytical side kicks in. Why was there no room in the inn? I believe this statement puts perspective on the environment. But without the help of some analytics, the statement itself has no context as to explain why the baby was apparently born in a stable.
Being analytical by nature, I started to pursue just how many people would have been in Bethlehem, a small town of approximately 600 residents at this time. I was surprised by the answer. See, from early on in Sunday school I was also shown a quiet little town during the birth of Jesus, but that picture is not quite true. Consider this, According to the Gospel of Matthew, there were 28 generations between King David and Jesus. So the question is, if the house of David had to return to Bethlehem, what would be the number of living descendants in the house of David returning to Bethlehem. According to various sources, this many generations would have yielded about 100 million plus. When other depletion factors and mortality measures of each generation are taken into consideration the number dwindles to about 1 million. So, based on this, and even considering that everyone did not arrive on the same day as Mary and Joseph, the probability of available lodging was slim to none. But the number brings into focus that the town was not silent but active. Think about the noise of the crowd, and the celebration of relatives coming together that may not have seen each other for years. It was loud, festive and crowded.
Bethlehem was not silent nor was it peaceful on the night of the Birth of Jesus. And with that many people in town, I am sure, Jesus was not the only baby born on that night. Now, as you digest this new view of Bethlehem, I want to draw you attention to the activities that were most likely happening during that night and the nights before and after. I am sure there was some drinking and partying going on. Night time revelers seeking the next location to get a drink or partake of any other activity that could satisfy their desire for the night or just the moment. There were reunions happening. Yes, even though there was a mass of people, means of communications did exist as different family groups traveled along. And given the attention paid to genealogy during that time, distant kin may have encountered each other on the journey and continued the fellowship once in the town of Bethlehem. I am sure there were lost children running around the town. With this many people coming through town, a craftsman would have seen this as a great opportunity to sell their goods. And with the multitude that would be staying during the time period, certain craftsman goods would be needed, especially those that sold the staples needed to survive. But most notably the least of these were there also. The homeless, sick, beggars, and the prostitutes. These during this time would be considered untouchable and what Jesus would later say in his teachings, that what you have done to these, you have done to me, Jesus.
So with this broad outlay of society’s normal activity being represented why do you think the “Chaos” was so important. Maybe it was a distraction God intended to happen to minimize the birth of Jesus, not broadcast it. Or maybe, it was to present to later generations, including us today, that the world has not changed much over the generations.
Keep in mind, the only people that were invited to his birth were the Shepherds.
. When you consider a few things in the prophecy of Jesus, certain things, when applied to Jesus by a person of the time, would have interfered with the intended path of Jesus. Primarily consider Naomi. Yes, Naomi. You may ask what she has to do with anything, But as I mentioned before the attention to genealogy becomes applicable here. Naomi, the mother of Obed, the Grandmother of Jesse, and yes, The great grandmother of David, the most celebrated king of Israel. Naomi, the one promised that she would be the “mother” of the one that would sit on the everlasting throne of Israel. Now we start to connect the dots, Families coming together, the house of David coming together for the first time in centuries, surely the prophecy of Jesus was being discussed among the Elders.
C11, V1,There shall come a rod from the Stem of Jesse”...“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,Who shall stand as a banner to the people;...V10For the Gentiles shall seek Him,And His resting place shall be glorious.``, would be made. But by the simplicity and quietness of the birth, Jesus was basically hidden by God. For at his birth, it was not His time to accomplish what he was sent to accomplish. The greatness of Jesus was not is birth, but yet to come At his birth, Jesus was experiencing the love of a family, and he needed the time to grow in stature of man and God, in order that when it came time for him to be revealed, he would be in the image God wanted and not the image society would have cast him in based on their current social, political and economic circumstance and belief.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus not just for one night but for the next few weeks consider this: There was a sense of chaos at the birth of Jesus, a lot was going on. All segments of society were there, from the highest of authority to the lowest of people. And for all, Jesus was there for them to seek out once they became aware of it. Some probably did. And of these some probably saw a baby while others saw what he would become.
Ironically, some 2000 years later, things have not changed. We come to Christmas with the same Chaos around us each year. Seeking for more of the participation in the distractions rather than seeking Jesus. And today Jesus is still here, he’s out there waiting for us to see him through chaos. In the midst of all of the distractions, he is there, but different. Now he has almost accomplished all he had to grow into. Today he has experienced all that our lives will put before us in the chaos in which we live, the hate, love, anger, loss, doubt, temptation, rejection and the list goes on. But what Jesus has done that we have yet to do is die and be buried. And in the chaos following his death, he was called out of the grave by God to walk among those who followed him and persecuted him. And this is my hope for you this Christmas; that if you will take time to look into the chaos, you can find peace and direction, you can find assurance in the fact that if this world kills you, Jesus can bring you out of the grave to new life. Most importantly a relationship with Jesus is not an insurance policy, but just that, a relationship with one who knows your pain and suffering, your loneliness and your hope. Jesus will not judge you for who you are, he will love you and listen to you. And that is better than anything the World has to offer