We can’t stay in Bethlehem’s stable, can we? Mary and Joseph seem to have moved on fairly quickly. When the Wise Men arrive, they enter “the house” according to Luke’s gospel, scarcely a term one would use for that animal shelter which is our Christmas focus.
Bethlehem is not a permanent place; it is a temporary way station. For Mary, Joseph and the Child, there is still a future journey to Egypt and then a final settling into the village of Nazareth. We really have no idea how long they actually spend in Bethlehem.
We too have to leave this little town after we celebrate the birth of the Child. Oh, don’t go too quickly. I never do understand the discarded trees on the street on December 26, but we have to realize that our visit here is not a final goal. That is a lesson we would rather not learn.
So few things in life are enduring and we need to learn early the lesson of the transitory things that are part of our milieu. That does not make it easier, does it? Just when we think we have something figured out, it changes, and we need to start again.
I find it interesting that the gospels never record that Jesus revisited Bethlehem. Was he trying to teach us something? In a world of wild impermanence we cling to people and places and customs. We hate change most of the time. We long for the “good old days” which become more golden as memory gilds them anew.
Let us all take a lesson from those shepherds who came from their fields, found the Child, and then returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” We need to do that too, which is why the Christmas events occur so near the beginning of the Christian church year. They give us a jolt of energy to carry the Good News from a temporary shelter to an ever-changing world.
We return to it each year because we and our world are different from last year and the one before and.... We need our annual visit to remind us that Christmas is a beginning, not an implantation. Before we put away our crèches, let’s renew our commitment to the work that is ours to do.