I took this photo of Bethlehem at dusk in November 2010.
Scholar and Bible translator J.B. Phillips expresses powerfully the true wonder of what we’ve come to call Christmas…
“This almost beggarly beginning has been romanticized by artists and poets throughout the centuries. Yet I believe that at least once a year we should look steadily at the historic fact, and not at any pretty picture.
At the time of this astonishing event only a handful of people knew what had happened. And as far as we know, no one spoke openly about it for thirty years.
Even when the baby was grown to be a man, only a few recognized him for who he really was. Two or three years of teaching and preaching and healing people and his work was finished. He was betrayed and judicially murdered, deserted at the end by all his friends.
By normal human standards this is a tragic little tale of failure, the rather squalid story of a promising young man from a humble home, put to death by the envy and malice of the professional men of religion. All this happened in an obscure, occupied province of the vast Roman Empire.
It is fifteen hundred years ago that this apparently invincible Empire utterly collapsed and all that is left of it is ruins.
Yet the little baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world.
Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history.
It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic can ever explain away.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago.”