- Nowadays this place-name is almost synonymous with Christmas.
- Joseph had taken Mary and Jesus there because the Roman authorities were
making a census of the population. To make their desk-work easier, they had asked the men to return to their home
- That is why Joseph and Mary were wandering around with nowhere to sleep at
Bethlehem in Judea when they lived over forty miles north in Galilee in a town called Nazareth.
(That is why Jesus is known as Jesus of Nazareth - not of Bethlehem
- One of the greatest figures in Jewish history was their great King David (traditionally the author of the Psalms). It
was at Bethlehem that he had shepherded his father's flock, and it was at Bethlehem that he
was anointed King by the prophet Samuel. [1 Samuel 16:13]
- Because of this, Bethlehem was known as 'the city of David' - as the angel described
it to the Shepherds when he told them to go there [Luke 2:11]
'to you is born this day in the City of David
a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.'
- When, much later, the Wise Men visited Palestine in search of the new-born King, they went, of course, to
the capital Jerusalem to see Herod the King.
Herod was a murderous non-Jew, and was alarmed by the Wise Men's hopes of a King.
He asked his advisers where it was that the Jews thought that their Christ would be born.
- The question was not a difficult one!
'In Bethlehem' they replied, basing their answer on a passage in the Jewish Scriptures (i.e. the 'Old
Testament') from Micah 5:2. In the traditional translation the Matthew quotation of it is:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.
- Herod, therefore, sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem, and told them to inform him when they had
found the child - because (so he claimed) he also wanted to 'worship' him. Herod wanted to do no such thing! He was a
big-time murderer - as his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle and many others, found out to their
- God had no intention of allowing Herod to spoil his plans, so he warned the Wise Men not to return to the
King, but to take another route home. [Matthew 2:12]
- As Herod already knew the town was the place of the Birth of Jesus - but did not know the actual house - he
promptly ordered the massacre in Bethlehem of all children two years old and younger.
- The baby Jesus escaped because Joseph obeyed God and fled to Egypt, and stayed there until
Herod was dead.
- John's Gospel provides an interesting link with Bethlehem [John 7:40-43]. When Jesus, as an
adult, ministered in his home town, Nazareth (in Galilee), the inhabitants were in two minds about whether he was
the Christ or not. The reason was this:
When they heard these words,
some in the crowd said, 'This is really the prophet.'
Others said, 'This is the Messiah.'
[see entry under Christ]
But some asked,
'Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?
Has not the Scripture said that the Messiah is descended
and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?'
So there was a division in the crowd because of
- In Bethlehem today there stands the Church of the Nativity. In its basement there is a cave-shaped area
and in the floor is set a silver star to mark the traditional site of the Nativity. It cannot be said with
certainty to mark the exact place because Hadrian devastated the site in the 2nd century, and it remained like that for
two centuries until re-discovered by Helena (mother of the Emperor Constantine).
- Bethlehem features in many carols but most famously in O Little Town of Bethlehem. Unlike most
Christmas hymns it puts into words the worshipper's personal relationship to the Christ in the memorable
O holy child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord, Emmanuel.