Wednesday 21st February
Bethlehem, the place of promise - Micah 5:2-4
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

Bethlehem enjoyed an iconic status as the birthplace of Israel's greatest and most famous king. Yet by the time of Christ's birth, this was largely a lost greatness and failed hope, that people could only long to be restored. Yet the prophet Micah spoke of exactly that; he foresaw it as a place from which an even greater ruler would one day emerge.

Yet it is likely that nothing was further from the minds of those Jews who found themselves compelled to travel there at the decree of a Gentile invader. Their identity with the house and line of David was simply a cruel reminder of their weakness and oppression. They were summoned to this place of former glory, to be enrolled as helpless subjects to the powers of Rome.

But within the birth story of Jesus, an even deeper irony was at work. Bethlehem is about to become once again the birthplace of a king; a king who will indeed be known as the son of David; a king who will fulfil that prophecy of a day when someone of even greater standing than this legendary ancestral monarch, will come to the aid of God's struggling people.

This was something that no-one could have known or imagined as they trudged wearily from their homes to fulfil Rome's latest unreasonable demand. It would have been hard to believe that salvation was dawning as they confronted the chaos of overcrowded streets and packed guest houses. Yet somewhere, lost in the crowd, a young couple struggled desperately to find their own refuge, entrapped by the self-same circumstances, yet the bearers of hope and salvation in the midst of it all.

Yet most would fail to see the true reality of God's salvation purpose. Had they even noticed a young homeless couple struggling to care for their new born child, they were more likely to look the other way; to rush to judgemental conclusions than celebrate the dawn of their salvation. And through the people's failure to recognise God's hand at work, those at its very centre remained ignored and neglected.

Our call to be those who bring and proclaim Good News does not mean that we can expect to escape from the struggles of the world in which we have to bear it. No matter how impossible it might feel, God's Salvation can dawn through the very circumstances which seem to mitigate against it. A community that saw itself as nothing, could yet again become the birthplace of a King; a vision placed before God's people in the words and oracles of ancient prophets would indeed become reality. God's potential can never be contained by human assumptions and reason.

God whose purposes will always prevail, whether my journey though this day be easy or hard, may your truth give me courage and strength to embrace its every circumstance. AMEN

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