O Little Town

The Advent season is a time of anticipation, waiting, and preparation. During the month of December, Time With God will break from its regular format to explore selected passages and characters connected with the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us.


We sing about it at Christmas. With the words of a hushed hymn, we sing of the city where Jesus, God with us, was birthed human into this world:

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 to-night.

But long before the penning of these words, and longer still before Mary and Joseph found no place at a Bethlehem inn, the prophet Micah said this: “And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people” (Micah 5:2).


2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


An enormous concrete wall, as high as twenty-six feet in some areas, surrounds the city. They call it the Separation Wall. It’s hard to tell whether the purpose is to keep people out or keep people in. Watchtowers are placed in strategic areas around the wall, as well as soldiers manning their posts, always on alert. To enter the city, you must pass through a security station that includes deep rows of chain-link fencing topped with coiled barbed wire. A series of maze-like passages lead from one

* Hymn by Phillips Brooks, c. 1868.

checkpoint to another. All the while, soldiers monitor all of the action from above on their catwalks, machine guns on their hips. Graffiti speckles the concrete walls—some calling for freedom, some for peace, some for war.

Welcome to modern-day Bethlehem.

It’s a complicated and magnificent place, a stark contrast to the romantic village many of us may imagine. Complicated because of the religious and political kindling that always feels like it’s about to catch flame, and magnificent because over two thousand years ago a child named Jesus was born and placed in a manger near an inn there.

The image of this great hope in Christ paired with this bleak and complex city surrounded by concrete walls has become a beautiful metaphor to me. In the middle of our darkness, in the middle of our imprisonment, in the middle of our conflicts, in the middle of our limitations, in the middle of our brokenness, Jesus steps in and changes everything. It took a long time for me to realize that modern-day Bethlehem is no different than our hearts.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee to-night…