December 17 – Day 17
Ornament – Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a city in the hill country of Judah, situated about five miles south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was know as an agricultural town. In fact, its origin name was Ephrata, meaning “the fruitful.” It is also known as ‘Bayt Lahm’ meaning “House of Flesh” and Bet ‘Lehem’ meaning “House of Bread.”
This town, called by different names, is known though for how it has heralded love, for its sky and soil had been the backdrop for four great love stories. Well, three great love stories and the greatest love story ever told. Four extravagant events telling of an indescribable love.
Jacob journeyed to Bethlehem in search of a bride. Though outwitted by an ambitious father-of-the-bride(s), Jacob found his beloved, in Rachel. So precious was she to him, he served her crafty father, Laban, for two seven year terms, that he might forever hold her hand in his. His heart, she had held since the well.
Chapters into their story, the barrenness of Rachel turned bountiful. She bore two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. The second’s birth would bear her death.
Jacob who served father and bride, now needed to bury his beloved. Instead of traveling back to Hebron with her fallow frame, he chose to enfold her atop a hill, near the grieving ground of those considered prestigious and in the midst of a pasture full of ewe and lamb.
Jacob, who once tended the flocks of Laban, for the love of his life, would steward the story of their love, for generations to read and remember. Rachel, back to the earth, planted deep in the love’s land, left a legacy of what love does when it seeks to serve.
Elimelech and Naomi lived in the city of Bethlehem and owned a field in its village. When famine struck, they set out for a more prosperous property. In Moab, Naomi found famine of a different nature, through the loss of Elimelech and their two sons.
Hungry for the bread of her homeland, she would return to Bethlehem. But she would not be alone, for Ruth, her daughter-in-law, would return also.
Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, now tended the field left behind. He noticed Ruth gleaning grain in the corners of the field and invited her to fill the void in his heart. He wrestled not with the rumors that ravaged or the negative name that held her.
In field fertile, he moved Ruth to respite. Upon threshing floor, he gave her dowry. At city gate, he redeemed her family line, back to front. In marriage chamber, he gave her seed for a Savior to come. Rested love redeems.
Jesse served in the Sanhedrin. Though he would lengthen the line of Christ, in his later years, a doubt about his ancestry gnawed at the foundation of his faith. For his grandmother Ruth was a Moabite. In order to sift his story, he separated from his wife, Nitzevet, sending her to the Tower of the Flock.
Down the road, he desired to have a child whose ancestry was unquestionable, so he sent for a Canaanite handmaiden. Unknown to him, she was faithful to Nitzevet. The discarded wife and beckoned maiden, hatched a plan. Places they would trade, so Jesse would be intimate with Nitzvet. A hidden plan bore a son, David. In order not to shame Jesse, Nitzevet carried their meeting, and his identity as father, alone, marking David as illegitimate.
David spent his days at the Tower of the Flock, learning to tend sheep. There in green meadows and beside still waters, he fell in love with God. Though cast aside by brothers and brethren, he would never turn away from the love he found flowing from the heart of Pappa.
Jesse couldn’t fully take hold of his inheritance. David would spend his faithfully on a King to come.
**Note: This story of David, which you may not have heard, comes from the Midrash (ancient commentary on Hebrew Scriptures, attached to the Biblical text). I came upon it as I was exploring Psalm 69, specifically the portions beginning with verse eight where David spoke of becoming a stranger to his brothers and a foreigner to his mother’s sons. He goes on to tell of how he was mocked at the gates of the city.
Digging in moved me greatly. It also caused portions of David’s story to come with clarity. I am grateful for the ancient texts and their commentaries. Though this part of David’s story might not be familiar, I felt it needed inclusion. His love story with the Lord undoes me.
Recognizing he was an orphan of sorts pierces my heart, beyond sealing shut. David became an heir of love, inheriting a crown and throne, so we might recognize the truly crowned upon throne and within fields.
Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem, heavy with child and pregnant with expectation. With little room inside, they turned toward the Tower of the Flock. There they laid love down, in the stable where the sacrificial lambs were raised and readied. They wrapped Him in swaddling, the robe of lambs, being saved for sacrifice. In a meager manger He was laid, a sign of the sustenance He would be.
There, in Bethlehem’s bed, He was surrendered, scapegoat for our souls.
Why do we speak of the place of His birth? Because, He is still coming to be born in us, we broken Bethlehems. Houses of flesh, in need of bread.
The birth of light pulls back curtains dark, so a story of LOVE can truly be told.
We all need the shutters of our eyes, opened wide, so we might see. We need still, to catch breath, from the first inhale of tainted air into tender lungs. The breath breaks in, fresh and fragile, into every place and position we find ourselves.
There was not room enough. There may not yet be in the tiny towns and small spaces of us.
My word, that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountain and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:11-12
His word will fill us, after it finds us, faintly saying “Let it be done, according to . . .”
Rooms prepared. Walls felled. Doors flung wide.
There is no more straddling the line of light and dark. Advent awakens ache, arouses anticipation and awaits arrival. Wicks of wonder light the world when we come and adore.
This is not fabricated flame. It is as it was with Moses and the magicians. Our help will come from nowhere else! Dawn divides dark, like a parted Red Sea, so what only God can do, is welcomed. On this we have waited. In hope. Hope for all, waiting in long, dark nights. Hope catches fire when the unexpected come to the untended.
In Bethlehem’s borders, Rachel was buried. On its outskirts, Christ was born. We can look to what we have buried or towards what is yet to be. He is Love’s legend. He will be but myth if we don’t hold true.
For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government shall be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor . . .
He will be called. I love that. I hope for this. That He will be called into every problem and be part of every praise.
The word Isaiah used for “wonderful” is ‘pele’ which means “of wonder, something marvelous.”
The Hebrew word for “counselor” is ‘yoetz’ and in context of Isaiah 9 means, “He is planning; He comes to consult, give counsel.”
Wonderful Counselor (‘pele-yoetz’) is not only a name, it is also a phrase. ‘Yoetz’ comes from the root ‘vav’ which means, “to open the way, to connect to.” This name, His Name, connects.
He will be called, He is to be called, Mighty Counselor, “the One who connects us to the wonder that He is of (from) and hold us, eternally keeping us in the midst of His plans.”
Sundown 8 – DWELL
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Isaiah 60:19-20
The shepherds did not run by the brightness of the sun or the pale of the moon. Every step was bathed in the Light of the Christ. The longing they didn’t even know they had was slowly satiated. The void within them filled. And they ran, they rushed, they roared. Nothing, nothing would keep them from their destination, their destiny.
Focused, they foretold. Fixated, they forecast. For us. You see, sheep have incredible hearing, but poor vision. But Light comes; It came. To light the way. Penetrating, piercing, pulsating light flooded and flowed.
As each shepherd became a smoldering then fiery torch, those yet to come could see. We can see. Through their story, we see what it should look like when HE is near in ours.
We are a remnant, birthing a generation. We return, we race, we roar towards the Light. And in our restful run, we realize that the closer to the Light we come, the more of it we have become. And we begin to fulfill the prophecy of Revelation 22:3-5:
No longer will there be any oppressor. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
He calls us to rule and overrule, while safely hidden in His steadfast love. Allow that to sink deep. We not only rule with Him, but we overrule all that opposes Him. Such authority and abundance.
As you light the eighth candle, remember LIGHT is our dwelling. And nothing, not even our own darknesses of fear, doubt, comparison, envy, anger, lust or complacency can overtake us, when we run and rapid to our cauldron of light, revealing and reveling in HIM every step of the way.
BEATITUDES (Let this be our attitude)
Blessed (abundant) are they, the persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Persecuted means “to be chased, pursued or hunted.” Though each of those seems quite intimidating, I can’t help but think of David’s declaration in Psalm 23:6:
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
The nuance is that we will be chased, pursued or hunted by His goodness. So what if the blessed of this beatitude are those who allow His pursuit with goodness to overtake and overcome the threat of any and every enemy plan?