Bedlam of Bethlehem
Posted on December 14, 2014

Prince of Peace. We’ve been talking about that every Sunday in Advent. Our theme has been Advent: A Season of Waiting, and we continue to say Sunday by Sunday that in our world, we wait eagerly (sometimes urgently) for a Prince of Peace to arrive. Ferguson, Staten Island, Syria, Kenya, North Korea, Russia, Ukraine, situations of abuse involving women or children or the elderly, kids reared in poverty, guilt, remorse, the list goes on and on. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel referred to a world that “cries peace when there is no peace.” And so, taking stock of this world of ours, we wait and wonder and worry and weep.

Many years ago, a brilliant Scottish preacher named James Cleland was Dean of the Duke University Chapel. While there, he published a book of sermons including a Christmas message entitled “Bedlam In Bethlehem.” In that sermon he meticulously described how absent-of-peace Bethlehem was on the night of Jesus’ birth. It was a city where oppressed people and the occupying forces were juxtaposed. Poverty and power were present. The military might of Rome had its boot on the throat of the innocent sufferers of Israel. And the Son of God came to a world like that. In fact, He came as one of the sufferers, born in a cowshed because “there was no room for them in the inn,” born to a simple carpenter and his teenaged fiancée, born with no doctor or midwife but surrounded instead by barn animals and third shift shepherds. What an unlikely port of entry for God’s Messiah. But, Cleland pointed out that a Messiah is needed most in just such a world as that. Were we still in Eden where all is bliss and peace, why would we wait for, pray for, or need a Prince of Peace?

It is always outside the gates of Eden that a Deliverer is required. It is always amid the pains and problems of human existence that we need most of all Someone who reminds us that beyond every Good Friday’s Cross is an Easter Sunday’s Resurrection. A Messiah is crucial when there is “Bedlam In Bethlehem.”

And so in our current age, as in all ages prior when suffering and sadness were also present, we pray, “Marana’tha – Lord, come!” We read the headlines or watch the news, we lose a job or receive a diagnosis, we are betrayed by a friend or rejected by a loved one, we experience fear on one hand and frustration on the other, and we pray… and wait… and know somehow that the One for whom we pray and wait is able to do for us and our world what we cannot do alone. And, even if the wheels of change turn slowly, because of Christmas we do not lose heart. In fact, because of Christmas we know that the One for whom we pray is already in our midst, and perhaps Advent is simply a time for recognizing that. He is here, among us, beside us, with us, for us, so that we do not face the bedlam of Bethlehem alone.

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