I am Bethlehem
And so we have celebrated Christmas, the coming of Jesus to this world. And O what a thing to celebrate! The manger, the angels, the shepherds…the focus of the entire pageant comes down to this: Jesus became a man. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…made like his brothers in every way” (Hebrews 2:14,17). Jesus took on a genuine humanity.
Pause, and let that sink in – Jesus shared in your humanity. Baby Jesus wasn’t wearing a halo. Apologies to Away In a Manger, but yes he cried; he spit up his food; he needed to be held, and his diapers needing changing; this infant was a real infant. He needed to learn to walk, to talk, to tie his shoes. That alone is stunning, stunning, stunning. And Jesus the man wasn’t faking it, either – Gethsemane was real. The sorrow, the anguish, all of it. His humanity was real. It makes his life all the more stunning.
Jesus took on a genuine humanity. This is at the center of our Christmas celebration – his Advent, his coming to earth. And of course, this late in the story, I hope it is nearly impossible for you to celebrate Christmas without your heart turning toward his return. One day soon, Jesus Christ is going to return to this earth, with his army, to make a final end of evil and to usher in the coming of a Golden Age. We refer to this as the “Second Coming.” I find myself praying for it nearly every day.
But what struck me this Christmas was this: The Second Coming is actually - in fact and in reality - the Third Coming.
Christ came to Bethlehem. And then, he comes to dwell in us, to be born in us. The Second Coming is actually in us – Christ is born in us, and is formed in us. He is here, right now, in us. Paul says that his whole life of labor was so that the Incarnation might continue…in us. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
Until this man, this life, is formed in you. Christ was first formed in Mary’s womb; now he is being formed in us. It is a truth unique to Christianity and no other religion. "…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints…Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:25-27).
Jesus made his first invasion into Bethlehem. His second great act of indwelling happens when we open our hearts to him, and he comes to live in us. Think of it - Jesus Christ is inside of you, now, this very moment.
A friend of mine who lives in eastern Europe sent me this in a late night email. (He is responding to a passage in Beautiful Outlaw):
“It is late night and I was putting my little ones to bed (they are not that little any more but they like it anyways). I'm still sitting here next to their beds and they had fallen to sleep at least an hour ago but I'm reading on the Humility of Jesus. I am disarmed, naked, amazed and in awe with this Jesus. It is like a new Incarnation – the Word is becoming Flesh in me now. I think the Incarnation didn't finish but it continues."
The Incarnation didn’t finish but continues. It is one of my favorite phrases. The Incarnation continues…in us.
And so on Christmas Eve, as our family and a few dear friends were having a quiet service here at home, and I was sharing these very thoughts about the Second Coming actually being in us, suddenly the Spirit leapt in me and I practically shouted, “I am Bethlehem.” And you are Bethlehem. The Incarnation continues, just as real as it did that fateful night. It continues in us.