December 12, 2011 Devotion Sharing (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

Submitted by Lem M. from Gracepoint Davis Church

The picture of the little town of Bethlehem in a deep and dreamless sleep while the birth of the long awaited Messiah occurs is such a tragic picture.  Bethlehem is a little town a few miles south of Jerusalem.  Though it was known as King David’s birthplace and was considered a special location among prophecies, it was still a little town.  No one ever imagined that the “hopes and fears of all the years” were being fulfilled through the birth of baby Jesus in a manger.  God chose Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace and it is just one picture of God’s humility as He reveals himself to the world.  God chose Mary and Joseph a peasant couple to raise Jesus.  God chose the manger.  God chose to come as a weak and frail baby.  I have been reflecting on the humility of God since the start of our Christmas DTs.  The whole world clamors for power and prestige and Jesus could have easily entered the world with a lot of fanfare and an impressive army of the angelic hosts, but instead he chose this way.  God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong and this goes against my natural desire to be strong, impressive and to be noticed in the eyes of the world.

God is telling me you got it all wrong.  Jesus will not be found in the halls of power, born to people of nobility, nor will He be esteemed in the eyes of the world.  Jesus will be found among the humble and He invites me to meet him there in Bethlehem.  In this world of sin, “where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”  Everything about the nativity challenges me to have a meek soul.  During this Christmas season, I want to spend a lot of time reflecting on the Christmas passage and to purge myself of the worldly notions of power and to be captivated by the humility of God.  God chose Bethlehem; God chose the humble way to conquer this world with love instead of might.  The little town of Bethlehem missing the advent of the Messiah is a tragic picture.  However, the more tragic picture is if I let another Christmas pass by without having the humility of God pierce me and transform me for the coming year.

While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love – The truth that this stanza reminds me of is that God watches over mankind with wondering love.  God never sleeps, but He is faithfully watching over his people.  Today, we participated in Prison Fellowship’s Project Angel Tree home visitations.  I look forward to this ministry every Christmas when our church can deliver presents to children on behalf of their incarcerated parent.  Today, we had a chance to visit a teenager to drop off gifts on behalf of his father in prison.  He was a tall and lanky teenager but he didn’t act like the stereotypical teenager.  Both he and his grandmother were warm and very open to talking with us, listening to the gospel presentation and our singing of “O Holy Night.”  I asked if he had heard of the gospel before, and he responded that he has been going to a local church for the past six years.  He excitedly shared about his church that picks up the youth with a bus and brings them to church where they hear the gospel and to fellowship with other young believers.  The whole visit was Spirit led and we ended with a time of prayer.  Grandma shared how she is so thankful for our visits and recalled a couple of times our church has visited them in the past.  As I was discussing the visit with my team it turns out that one of the senior sisters had visited this family last year and described the student as un-engaged and closed off to the gospel.  She remarked how open and warm he was during this visit.  What happened?  I was reminded from this stanza that God was working on this boy’s heart all along.  We may not have seen this boy for a year but God was using his praying grandmother, the zealous youth pastor, his peers at church and the gospel message preached to transform him.  When I closed our time in prayer I asked God to fulfill his dream of going to college, to become a man of faith and to become a blessing for many people.  I prayed with confidence knowing that God is keeping watch over his life with the wondering love of the Father that will never fail him.

Lastly, the song ends with a stanza inviting Jesus to come and cast out our sin, to enter in, and be born in us today.  The good news of great joy for all the people and the great glad tidings that the Christmas angels sing is that God has come to be with us.  God promises to cast out my sin, to cleanse me and to be my Emmanuel God.  Another year has passed and I experience my sin with painful clarity. I have another year of regrets–poor decisions, people I hurt, and failure to proactively love those God placed in my care.  I know I need God to heal me of my sin and during this season of Christmas the greatest news is the forgiveness of my sin.  Not only does God forgive me of my sins but he commits to being born in me and to abide with me.  He is not repulsed but instead draws near to defeat the sin in my life and that gives me great hope for the coming year.

The fact that the “Little Town of Bethlehem,” was about to have a huge thing happen in it was long-ago foretold by Micah the prophet. 

What are some words used to describe Jesus in this passage, and how do these descriptions comfort and assure me today?

Jesus will “shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord…And they  [his flock] will live securely…And he will be their peace.”

Jesus is the mighty shepherd over my life and if I follow and obey Him, then I will experience security and peace.   When I was the master of my life I searched for security and peace.  I thought I could gain them through success, ambition, popularity, strength, etc. but everything I tried left me anxious and insecure.  I was the shepherd of my life before I met Christ fourteen years ago and it was a miserable existence. Fourteen years later, I know the peace that comes from being one of God’s flock.  This year I am experiencing security and peace like never before.  I am a broken sinner and yet God loves me.  I knew this intellectually when I committed my life to Christ, but this year I am experiencing rest from truly knowing the depth of God’s love and mercy for someone like me.  The anxiety to prove myself and to earn love and respect is being replaced with a quiet contentment that although I am not “great  in the eyes of the world” I am loved by my heavenly Father and privileged to me a member of His flock.

Reflect on the words of stanza 1.  In what ways do these words capture my own testimony, and the way of God in our world today?

O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep
and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears
of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

The little town of Bethlehem was in a dreamless sleep and oblivious to the fact that the long awaited Messiah has made himself known on Earth.  This is a picture of my life before Christ as I described above and it’s a picture of our world today.  The world is in a spiritual slumber and darkened by sin.  We are content going through our daily routine of school, career, family, and seeking pleasures to satisfy our base desires.  The world is held captive to sin and that was my testimony before knowing Christ.  And yet in the dark streets and in the dark souls of this world the everlasting Light shineth.  Jesus comes to defeat the darkness of sin and comes to awaken us into a new reality of life.  We are awakened to the fact that our lives are not about ourselves but we are invited into a personal relationship with God in which we experience freedom from our sin, forgiveness, love, purpose, joy, peace etc.  We experience the abundant life that Jesus promises will fill us to the full (John 10:10).

Write a prayer of based on stanza 4 for yourself and for all those into whose hearts Christ still needs to be born.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin,
and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us,
abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

Heavenly Father,

I want to thank you again for sending your precious son, Jesus, to earth to cast out my sin and to give me a new lease on life.  Father, with each passing year, I experience the heaviness of my sin with painful clarity and I affirm my need for a Savior.  I made my commitment to serve you fourteen years ago, but I realize my daily need to confess my sin and to experience the power of your forgiveness and grace.  I am thankful for Christmas and the reminder that you have come to be my Emmanuel God and to be with me through the challenges I face in the future and today.  As I spend time with family during this Christmas season, I pray that I can be a proper witness and share the love of Christ with them. Help me to be bold in sharing the Gospel with my friends and family.  The gift of Jesus is too precious to hoard for myself.  With each and every year I experience my need for the Gospel and I pray that this will be the year that my unbelieving relatives and friends will recognize their need for you as well.

I also pray for the coming New Year.  As we start another quarter/semester on our college campuses, I pray that I can approach the harvest field with greater zeal knowing I carry the everlasting Light that can awaken the students from their spiritual darkness and slumber.  God you commit to come to us, to abide with us and to be our Lord Emmanuel.  God, I want to respond by coming to you and abiding in you this Christmas Holiday.  There is much you want teach me through the nativity story and I pray that I will be faithful with my DTs and personal reflection and to learn the lessons you want me to apply this coming year.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Submitted by Karen M. from Gracepoint Davis Church

The fact that the “Little Town of Bethlehem,” was about to have a huge thing happen in it was long-ago foretold by Micah the prophet. 

What are some words used to describe Jesus in this passage, and how do these descriptions comfort and assure me today?

“ruler”
“origins are from of old”
“shepherd”
“greatness”
“peace”

The fact that Jesus is a ruler and is great, yet he shepherds and brings peace greatly comforts and assures me with the reminder that God is sovereign. He is above all things of this world, and the fact that his origins are from of old means that he was here before the beginning of time. He has always been a part of history. He is powerful in that way, that he is not limited by death and the ups and downs of life, but he is the creator and all of creation answers to him. But although he is this great and mighty, he doesn’t use it to just force the world into serving him and be enslaved to him. This is what we have seen other rulers do with all their strength and power. It’s just to serve themselves. Instead God calls himself our shepherd. He is there to bring about my peace. And I can trust in him to do that because he has the power to do so. Not only that, he knows and understands how my life is supposed to be lived out and so he is the only one that has the ability to adequately shepherd my life. After years of allowing God to shepherd me, I can confidently say that God has been my good, loving shepherd and I am so thankful that I allowed him to rule over my life. He has delivered me from the miserable life I once lived, from my sins that robbed me from peace and the sins that I once thought I’d be hopelessly enslaved by forever. I can say that God is great and only he was able to help me.

Reflect on the words of stanza 1.  In what ways do these words capture my own testimony, and the way of God in our world today?

O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep
and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears
of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

Bethlehem was this little, fameless town that nobody made much of. I think of Davis and our farmlands here, that aside from UCD, no one knows where it is on the map. Nothing compared to San Francisco or Los Angeles. At night, sometimes on the farm roads there are no lights at all, and it’s pitch dark as you look out on the vast fields. In the dark streets of Bethlehem, the songs speaks of an everlasting Light. To have light would mean warmth, life, hope, something I could go towards and find my way. I also think of home and family and love, because a light out in the dark field would probably mean a home was there. The darkness is a good parallel to the darkness of our hearts when we have no hope, no future to look forward to, no direction to move towards, loneliness and bitterness. And into that darkness, God shone a great light that is everlasting. This is great news.

These words capture my own testimony as I remember the days when I was younger and filled with dread as I looked out into the vastness of life and my future. It was dark and bleak as I felt lost.  I was filled with fear as I approached each birthday that would mark another year closer to graduation and “real life”. That meant facing the world, being on my own, feeling very inadequate and lacking resources to face what was up ahead. It was because I met Christ, light shone into my life through the gospel. All my hopes and fears were met with explanation, purpose, and most importantly, Christ himself promised to be with me and shepherd my life. He still daily shines his light into my life to provide guidance as well as illuminate the areas of my life that need to be given over to him. Each year, new fears surface, and I have to go to God with them. I have never experienced God failing me.

Write a prayer of based on stanza 4 for yourself and for all those into whose hearts Christ still needs to be born.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin,
and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us,
abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

 

Dear Christ Jesus, thank you so much for descending to us, and being willing to dwell in such lowly places. As a vulnerable baby, You were born in a foul smelling manger and in a scandalous situation. There as no place for a baby, let alone a king. And likewise, you chose to descend and dwell in the lowly, filthy place of our human hearts, because you wanted to be with us as Emmanuel. Lord, cast out my sin of selfishness, indifference, passivity and complacency, comparative spirit, and all the things in my heart that are so ugly. Only when I repent of these things and allow you to fill my heartis there peace that comes. Lord, there are so many who don’t know this peace. I know so many who are restless, lonely, longing for love and filled with frustrations and fears. I pray that the glad tidings of the gospel would enter into their hearts as well. That through me, or someone else, or through whatever means, the barriers that prevent the gospel from penetrating would come down and they would discover why the gospel is such good news for them as well. Thank you for all the people that you sent to bring this message into my life. I am indebted to them as I know they had to be patient since much sin had to be cast out of my heart. Lord, I pray that you can work in the hearts of the many that need you to be their Lord still.

Submitted by Sarah Y. from Gracepoint Davis Church

The fact that the “Little Town of Bethlehem,” was about to have a huge thing happen in it was long-ago foretold by Micah the prophet. 

What are some words used to describe Jesus in this passage, and how do these descriptions comfort and assure me today?

“Jesus will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord.”  This gives me a lot of comfort and assurance today because there are many reasons to feel weak from my own failings, my own sins, from the sins of others, from the suffering I see others go through from illness and other unexpected situations, and so much more.  We’re all in need of good Shepherd who is mindful of each one of us and who lovingly and powerfully shepherds his flock.  In a world where it’s so easy to feel alone in our weaknesses, Jesus is with us to faithfully shepherd us through every situation in life and he has the strength to carry each of us.

“And he will be their peace.”  This gives me comfort and assurance because there are a lot of reasons to feel uneasy and lacking in peace: people are losing their jobs because of the bad economy, we’re always finding out about new illnesses among people’s friends and family members, I have guilt and regrets about my sins and wrong choices I have made, life is so unpredictable and things often don’t go the way I want them to.  But Jesus will be my peace because in the midst of everything he wants to give me peace about the most important thing in life which is regarding my eternity.  The fact that so many things can go wrong in this lifetime but that my eternity with Jesus can be set because he came to die for my sins on the cross is something that can give me peace in the middle of all the storms of life.  I’m so thankful that Jesus came to be my peace.

Reflect on the words of stanza 1.  In what ways do these words capture my own testimony, and the way of God in our world today?

O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep
and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears
of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

Before the truth of who Jesus is broke through and became the most important reality of my life, I was in a deep and dreamless sleep, in my own little world.  It was in a deep sleep from which sometimes I didn’t want to wake up because life seemed easier just going with the flow of what media, friends and family taught me instead of seeking out the truth of God’s rightful place in my life.  It was a deep sleep in which I was entrenched in my stubborn and rebellious ways of wanting to trust my own thinking, my own limited experiences, and my own fickle feelings.  I was asleep and ignorant of all that God wanted to reveal to me about who He is, about whom He created me to be, and about how He has a place for me in his great plan of salvation.  I was missing out as I was in my spiritual slumber of indifference towards God and then sometimes even hostility towards Him and what I misunderstood His intentions to be for me.  It was also a dreamless sleep because I really limited my dreams to temporary things that would only make me happy for a little while—like good grades, a good career, a storybook romance, a perfect family, and a comfortable retirement—all of them being temporary because I couldn’t take anything with me beyond the grave and none of these things would probably pan out the way I expected and quickly the dreams would die.  My dreams were also limited because they were so selfish.  It was all about me and other people really didn’t matter that much unless they were doing something to benefit me.

Yet in the darkness of my rebellious ways that were not welcoming of truth, God chose to shine his everlasting Light of how he is my rightful Lord who created me to live in a proper relationship with him.  Yet in the darkness of my greedy heart, God still chose to graciously shine his everlasting Light of truth—the truth that he loves me.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  As I think about my life, I’m reminded of how Jesus made me confront my fears of not being in complete control of my life as I surrender that authority to him as my Lord and I’m reminded of how Jesus made me confront my fears of what others thought of me by confessing my sinfulness.  Jesus met my fears with hopes of how he can direct my life with much more wisdom and joy than I ever could and how he already knows my sinfulness and yet wants to cover all of that with his love and grace.

Write a prayer of based on stanza 4 for yourself and for all those into whose hearts Christ still needs to be born.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin,
and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us,
abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

Jesus, thank you so much for being a good Shepherd of your flock.  As I try to minister to others, I see so many of my own failures and shortcomings, but You are our Shepherd and You lead all of us in the strength of the Lord.  I need You to be my Shepherd to lead me and guide me so that I can live in a way that pleases the Lord and so that I can have the wisdom to lead others too.

Jesus, thank you for being our peace.  The lack of peace in my life is from my own doing but you still come to be my peace.  Thank you for having such a patient and persevering love for me that You want to give me peace despite all my past rebellion against you.

Jesus, thank you for being the everlasting Light that willingly came into my darkness and gave me hope.  Thank you for bringing Light to the darkness in this world and for being the hope of all nations.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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