Bethlehem Bound, GLORY, GLORY

And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up …to Bethlehem, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

How often we have heard these words! Tonight, we invite you, we urge you to hear them again, for the very first time! There's a startling, but simple truth in them.  Ever since Mary and Joseph, dear friends, when it's Christmas, it's time to come home!  That's it. That's the nub of it. In fact, we can sharpen the message even further. Jesus just doesn't get born 'til we go back home where we belong. Our ancestral home. The very place, it appears, that God in heaven has set aside for us on earth, even from the start. And tonight, above all nights, we find out. For all of us, it turns out the name of that place is…BETHLEHEM. Oh, did you know? Has anybody ever told you the meaning of the name Bethlehem? It means, "The House of Bread." How apt, how carefully, maybe eternally planned, that this little child who will grow up to be called the Bread of Life is born in that tiny little town, that unassuming little village of only about 600 permanently resident souls that bears the name the House of Bread! Tonight, each and all of us are invited, summoned, enticed by the wonder of the night to return there. (Or maybe get there for the very first time.) In this place we find in the company of this immortal infant the grandest gift for Christmas and for life. You and I, never hungry again. Not lonely again. Not empty again. Not homeless, shiftless, restless: ever again. SAVED! To be Bethlehem bound tonight, like Mary and Joseph, the angels, shepherds and kings to come: what a glory!

Now way back then in the long ago, old Caesar Augustus thought himself in charge. After all, he was Caesar, Emperor, King. Quirinius was similarly impressed with himself, what with being Roman governor and all. And Herod, well, he was another story, pompous potentate that he was. "The Great," you know. At least that's what he said. These were the figures who could move the world around at their whim. And it was they, it appeared, who sent Mary and Joseph home to Bethlehem.You and I can see a larger hand and a greater heart in this. It was Heaven, God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who saw to it that the Holy Family arrived at the holiest of moments at the House of BreadBethlehem. Glory! Glory! Why? Because for God this was/is the fullness of time and God could and cannot stand the sight of a world that is spiritually hungry any more! From wannabe kings to caretobe carpenters, to heretobe handmaidens of the Lord, that ancient time was filled with souls who lived their days like we do ours. Lost, but making good time! We fool ourselves! Hungry, but stuffed with stuff that doesn't matter. Everyone with places to go and things to do, but many with no place to rest their head or their spirit. Somehow, so much of the year, we just seem so far away from home. So… tonight's the night. 'Time to get back to where the bread is. 'Where the sanctuary is. 'Where the Child is… who is born to give us second birth, as the carol sings, and restore us to the home God himself has had prepared for us since time began.  

Oh, there is no better season, or finer night to determine to go home and be counted as in the family, just like Mary and Joseph and the child-delivered, who delivers us! So deep is our yearning for this. Since childhood we've been singing about, "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go." And we actually do, many of us. Crooners and lovers alike do still pine, "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." Even having a "holy, jolly Christmas" eventually gets to the line about the mistletoe where "somebody waits for you."  It's all good. But not sufficient. Somehow, some way, we all have to leave where we've been living all year this year. We all have to go up or go over to Bethlehem. Everybody's hungry, you see, hungry forever 'til we get to that place, that place of delivery, this House of Bread. I know a great little Christmas story of a boy who loved church. The songs, the praises, the people, yes, even the preaching. He just hated the prayers. Too long, too many names and things unknown. Especially when the preacher prayed. So when mom invited pastor to Christmas Dinner this child himself prayed, "Lord, just don't let him say grace!" You know what happed next. Dinner on. A turkey drumstick under that youthful nose. The dreaded words, "Rev., grace?!" Aaah! Pastor spoke, "Lord, for Christ, each other, this bread, we thank you on this Christmas day." Done! The child piped up in real relief, "Man, when you're hungry, Rev., you don't mess around!" Dear friends, this Christmas, get in touch with your hunger. Your real hunger. And then don't mess around. If you're hungry for a Savior, come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing.  If you're hungry to get beyond just-coping in this stressful time of economic woes and personal or panicked throes, come to hoping in this manger child. If you feel a little or a lot lost, somewhere (reference our altar) between the angel's trumpet call and the cross that says your headed for a certain fall, then come tonight to find your center where we find ours. At Bethlehem, at the Manger, at the cradle's edge. See him in that manger laid, whom the choirs of angels praise, where Mary and Joseph lend their aid, and we our hopes for bread can raise. It's alright tonight. At service' end be homeward bound. Not just to trees and trim. Not just to presents or to parties. And not just to tables set to treat you for an hour or a day. Oh, my, this Christmas, go all-the-way-home in your heart. Be Bethlehem bound. Savior seeking. Bread of Life fed. What a glory! What a glory! May it be yours.

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