The Christmas story is about movement. Faith in the Christmas Miracle is itself a journey; that’s why we take four weeks to meditate on the Advent, looking at Jesus’ birth from many aspects.
What comes to your mind when you read this article’s title, “Journey to Bethlehem“? Your initial response may be to think about the travels of the Magi, following their guiding star:
“Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ . . . Then Herod sent them to Bethlehem. . . When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” (excerpts from Matthew 2:1-12)
The picture of these “Three Kings” from mysterious eastern lands is etched in our Christmas consciousness from years of holiday pageants, creches and Christmas cards. The Magi symbolize the fact that the birth of this Baby is meaningful to every person in all corners of the earth, though each must follow the guiding star of faith to find him.
But there is an earlier journey to Bethlehem mentioned in the Gospels:
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered for taxation. . . All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” (Luke 2:1-5)
The picture of the pregnant young Mary riding on a donkey, which is being led by the older Joseph, who is wearily plodding along the roadway, is also a memorable Christmas image. The distance was not nearly as far as the Magi later would travel, but it must have seemed to take forever to this poor couple going to Bethlehem to face their very uncertain future.
Our Advent sermon series is not about either of these journeys, but refers to an even more significant journey to Bethlehem that inspired and motivated the other two. This is the far greater journey God’s Son made in coming from heaven to earth for his appointment with the human race. For the four Sundays of Advent, Pastor Connie and I will preach from Paul’s words, which are seen by scholars as possibly a first century hymn about Jesus’ journey to Bethlehem:*
(1) “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God,
(2) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
(3) taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
(4) And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
The numbers indicate the subject of our four sermons for Advent: Pastor Connie preached on (1) last Sunday, and we will focus on (2), (3) and (4) the next three weeks.
You will notice that Jesus’ journey to Bethlehem is a precipitous fall downward, from divine glory to ignominious death as a human. That’s how far he had to journey to save us. We hope you will enter into the depths of this Bible study so that you may grow in understanding and appreciation this Advent and Christmas season.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
* The late Dr Ralph P. Martin, who was a member of Altadena Baptist Church during his years on the Fuller Theological Seminary faculty, between 1970 and 2010, dedicated a good part of his scholarly work to the study of this passage (in his book A Hymn of Christ, Intervarsity Press, 1997) and evidence of the influence of other early Christian hymns in the New Testament. He was the father of Pat Losie and grandfather of Sarah Fiala.