SOME years ago I spied a travel ad in this newspaper captioned ``Christmas in Bethlehem.'' It seemed a great idea, so my wife and I spent Christmas in Bethlehem that year, as well as in the rest of the Holy Land. And we have tried to spend every Christmas season since then in Bethlehem -- well, sort of! Bethlehem of Judea lies about five miles south of Jerusalem. And today, as 2000 years ago, the road to Bethlehem is crowded with travelers on our traditional Christmas Eve.
However, ancient Bethlehem's welcome to the Virgin-mother and the new Messiah was grudging indeed! For Luke tells us that ``she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.''1
And so the name Bethlehem presents a picture almost in double exposure: first, one of humble acceptance by thought spiritually receptive to the Christ, the spirit of Truth and Love; second, the resistance of materialistic, worldly thought to that same appearing.
For each of us individually, as for mankind collectively, the Biblical prophecy of Micah holds rich promise: ``Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.''2
Whoever cultivates the consciousness that in humility perceives and accepts the Christ -- whoever strives daily to embody the purity, love, and other qualities that characterize the divine nature -- can surmount the materialism that would bury the spiritual significance of Christmas and that would promote the very ills that Jesus came to save us from.
Growing spirituality doesn't preclude our enjoying the outward pleasures of that season but rather can further enrich all seasons as we appreciate more deeply the true meaning of Christmas. A hymn tells us:
Keep while ye need it, brothers mine, With honest zeal your Christmas sign, But judge not him who every morn Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born.3
The divine healing influence, or Christ, can appear anytime to thought spiritually willing to acknowledge and receive it. The human heart can be illumined and feel some of the spiritual enlightenment that breaks through the darkness of fear, loneliness, confusion, sickness.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, comments: ``The star that looked lovingly down on the manger of our Lord, lends its resplendent light to this hour: the light of Truth, to cheer, guide, and bless man as he reaches forth for the infant idea of divine perfection dawning upon human imperfection, -- that calms man's fears, bears his burdens, beckons him on to Truth and Love and the sweet immunity these bring from sin, sickness, and death.''4
The true significance of Christmas cannot be defined nor confined by material conditions of birth or being. In fact, it brings to light new, spiritual dimensions of the origin of life. God is seen to be the true Father of all, as represented in the birth of Jesus. Man is understood to be His spiritual offspring, the likeness of divine Spirit, and this is the actual selfhood of each of us. Acknowledgment of this opens the way to healing in human life, healing in the deepest, most lasting sense.
Clearly, the grandeur of the virgin birth can never be other than unique with Jesus. Still, it points to higher conceptions of being in which God is seen as the Father of man. Think of the implications for humanity of a pure sense of man's true origin, of an understanding that the ills associated with fleshly existence have no validity -- and can therefore be healed -- because they're no part of man's real, God-derived identity.
Whenever the Christ is enthroned in our thought and lives, there is a perpetual Christmas. And wherever the Christ appears to thought, here is the universal Bethlehem -- individual consciousness receptive to the divine idea of God. So it really isn't necessary to travel halfway around the world to experience the joy and inspiration of a Christmas in Bethlehem, worthy as such a trip may be. You can experience it right here, too!
1Luke 2:7. 2Micah 5:2. 3Christian Science Hymnal, No. 170. 4Miscellaneous Writings, p. 320.
You can find more articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Colossians 3:17