At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas: The Visited Planet

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”  (Micah 5:2, 4-5a)

            No, sorry to disappoint you readers, but there is still no Duck Dynasty follow-up to yesterday’s post. Enough has been said.
            Plus, when it comes to matters like that, I always begin by asking my “catacombs question.” As in: Think about the early Christians, persecuted and worshipping in hidden corridors and catacombs below Rome. Would ________ have been one of their primary concerns?
            I doubt the Phil Robertson quote and subsequent response would have been on their radar. But the God-Man, Jesus Christ would have dominated their minds and hearts. So let’s stick to that.
            And even though it’s Christmas Eve here in St. Louis, I’m making this my Christmas reflection. It is now officially Christmas Day in Bethlehem, after all.
Speaking of which…Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? Why that small little insignificant village as the birthplace of God who became human?
            Granted, there is the fulfillment of prophecy. And it gave Jesus royal legitimacy, as Bethlehem had been the hometown of his ancestor, the great King David. But it was hardly sized well for the arrival of the Savior and Lord of the world. There were maybe a couple hundred people living in Bethlehem during Micah’s day. It would be the equivalent of someone in 1900 predicting that the fiftieth president of the United States would be born in Grano, North Dakota. Even the name of Bethlehem was more befitting a bakery (the name means “house of bread”) than a birthplace of the Messiah.
            So why Bethlehem? Maybe its tiny nature was meant to show us how remote our existence is to the rest of the universe God created. We are just a speck of cosmic lint in the middle of nowhere. And yet to this planet Earth, God placed humans whom he wanted to enjoy and love. And to this planet Earth, God arrived in the form of a baby taking his initial gulps of air with struggling lungs.
            The author J.B. Phillips attempted to show this perspective through a short fantasy tale. In this story, a senior angel is showing a very young angel the entire universe on a dazzling tour. They view whirling galaxies, enjoy a variety of constellations, skip past black holes and the occasional nebula, until at last they enter a smaller galaxy of “only” 500 billion stars. Phillips says:
            “As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had previously seen.
            ‘I want you to watch that one particularly,’ said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
            ‘Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,’ said the little angel. ‘What’s special about that one?”
            He listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet of white swirls and a mix of blues, greens, and browns, very small and not overly clean, was the famed Visited Planet.
            ‘Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince…went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should he do a thing like that? Do you mean to tell me,’ continued the little angel, ‘that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?’
            ‘I do,’ said the senior angel, ‘and I don’t think He would like you to call them creeping, crawling creatures in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.’
            The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.[1]

            So why Bethlehem? Maybe because it represents our human existence in city form. And yet Jesus visited. Jesus stayed. Jesus died. And Jesus lives.
            For you. For me. Who remain on this visited planet.

[1] J.B. Phillips, New Testament Christianity (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1958), 27-33.

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