On April 14, 1866, President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth while watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. Mr. Lincoln lived for a few hours after being shot, officially dying on the morning of April 15. Rev. Phillips Brooks was asked to speak at one of the president’s funerals that was to be held in Philadelphia. Brooks reluctantly accepted the invitation to speak, delivering a powerful message and eulogy to those in attendance. The war had taken it’s toll on Brooks: attending to the needs of his congregation, the constant loss of life, the uncertainty, and now the loss of Mr. Lincoln, left Brooks emotionally and physically drained. A few months later, knowing he desperately needed to get away to rest and reflect, Brooks took a sabbatical and left for Israel. On Christmas Eve 1865, Brooks wanting to get away from the crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem, borrowed a horse and headed for the little town of Bethlehem. Arriving at dusk a short time later, Brooks was overcome with emotion as he thought about the birth of Jesus. The stars, the stable, the surroundings, the stillness of night, and the spirit of that first Christmas, was all around him. The presence of God at that moment was so powerful that it left the great speaker speechless. The fervor for his ministry, the love for people, and the joy of serving the Lord quickly returned. Brooks soon returned home, and at every opportunity shared his Bethlehem experience with others. He completed his thoughts of that experience in 1868 by writing the words to one of our favorite Christmas hymns.
“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.”
Perhaps you, like Rev Brooks, could use a Bethlehem experience. The overwhelming demands of a job, the constant attention needed at home, family problems, an unwanted health issue, a fast paced lifestyle, or the difficulties of this past year has left you emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained. You need a Bethlehem experience, a “God moment.” You don’t need a sabbatical to Israel to feel and experience the presence of God. Find a quiet place at home, open your Bible to Luke and read the story of the Savior’s birth out loud. Close your eyes and meditate on what you just read. In your mind picture the scene of Bethlehem that first Christmas day – angels, shepherds, a stable, a manger, the baby, God in human flesh! Bow your head and pray, thanking God for the greatest gift ever given!
“But thou, Beth–lehem 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; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).
“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
The last verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” reads:
“O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.”
Given the challenges of this past year, I believe we all could use a “Bethlehem Experience,” a reminder that God is “Emmanuel,” and is with us, right here, right now! When the Shepherds heard the news about the birth of the Savior they hurried off to to enjoy their own “Bethlehem Experience,” and they didn’t keep it to themselves, they quickly shared it with others!
“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”
Who do you know who needs a “Bethlehem Experience?” Who will you share the “Good News of The Gospel” with this Christmas season?