Today, Sunday, begins the second week of Advent. If you are someone who lights the candles of an Advent wreath, you know that today we light a purple candle, sometimes called the Bethlehem candle or the candle of preparation.
Bethlehem. The place where God entered the world. The place where a teenaged girl and her husband-to-be searched through darkened streets bone weary tired for a place to spend the night. The place of shepherds and angels and mangers and good news and glad tidings.
The place of redemption. And reconciliation.
The place of God with us.
This afternoon, my almost-six-year-old heard a song that referred to Bethlehem and Jesus.
“Mama,” she begins, “why was Jesus in Bethlehem?”
“Because that is where he was born.”
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem?” she asks.
“Yes. Just like you were born in Cincinnati and your sister was born in Pawtucket.”
“Why was he born in Bethlehem,” she asks again and I smile. She no longer asks why he was born, instead she asks why there.
She has already concluded for herself that because Jesus is God that Jesus sent himself to be born.
She has already acknowledged that Jesus lives in our hearts.
She has already begun to understand that Jesus still loves her even when she isn’t quite so nice to her little sister; that he doesn’t vacate her heart because of what she does, but that he loves her because of who she is.
To this sweet little girl, Bethlehem could just as easily been one town over from us. She is fascinated by the story of his coming. She is delighted in him.
“Christmas really begins with Jesus,” she tells me tonight as we arranged the pieces of our nativity set. “And Christmas is about sharing.”
That God uses the heart and the words of my little girl to speak truth to my heart never comes without awe from me. Those words of truth remind, convict and encourage.
They remind me that my heart is Bethlehem this Christmas; it’s where the good news and glad tidings overflow in anticipation of celebrating a baby’s birth.
They convict me that even when I worry about gifts and wrappings and cluttered spaces, those are not nearly as important as the people with whom I get to celebrate Christmas.
They encourage me to prepare my heart, not just my home, for Christmas.
And so I pause, in the moments after the nativity is arranged and the girls are standing looking into the stable at the baby Jesus, and I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for where I am, for who I am with this Christmas, especially my husband, and for who I am becoming.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the Angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!