The 3 Ways to Bethlehem
If we read the Bible attentively, we shall discover that one of the most important topics included is the theme of travel. Have you noticed how often people are changing their place of residence in the Bible? In essence, it is almost impossible to find a Bible character who is truly into dialogue with God who remains at his place of residence. Sometimes, and very often, God Himself exhorts, saying: "Leave your country and your house and go to the land I will show you.”
The Bible is all about the journey of human life. If you open the New Testament Book of Acts, which depicts the beginning of the Christian Church, you will see that one of the first names of the early Church was "Way." Paul considered himself a follower of the Way, according to the words of Jesus. "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" John 14:6.
Indeed, the Gospel is a story of the Way. Jesus' disciples spent their entire lives on the roads ---in the beginning, following Jesus' exhortation: "Take up your cross and follow me," (Matthew 16:24) and then, following the Ascension of Jesus, they traveled all over the world to spread the good news of salvation.
Jesus himself was born on the way. Stepping back in time, as you are reading these lines, the Virgin Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem. The direct distance, as the crow flies, from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Mary and Joseph are going to walk more than 90 miles, taking four days, before they reach their resting place at the stable. Finally, on Saturday evening, they will arrive at Bethlehem, where Jesus will be born.
The Christmas story is about the journey. In the narrative of the birth of Son of God, all characters are in movement. Mary and Joseph are traveling. Magi, the wise men from the East, spend over two years on the road and will reach Bethlehem next week. Shepherds tending their sheep on the mountains will hear the good news from the angels and will say. “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15
Our lives, dear friends, is a journey, especially our spiritual life. For some, it starts at the intersection of doubt and stops at the Dead End of unbelief, but, for others, the same suspicious crossing leads back to the cradle of faith, the manger of Bethlehem.
The old saying espouses that every journey begins with a first step. In faith, what is that first step? During the days of Christmas, as everybody journeys to Bethlehem. Now, is it legitimate to ask where our traveling along the way of faith leads us? What do we do with our faith as we journey? What is the way to Bethlehem? In other words, how to travel that Saturday evening so that we can be in Bethlehem.
Fortunately, the Bible provides us several different roads to reach Bethlehem.
The first way is described by the evangelists Matthew, by the image of the Magi, who as I stated previously, were called wise men. They were the scientists of their time and were studying the stars and planets as well as predicting the future. Fundamentally, they were considered the intellectually elite of the time. The story of the Magi indicates that some people may reach the Bethlehem manger by way of science, research, and knowledge. Indeed, you have probably heard people express that there exists a gap between religion and science. Some scientists even say that an intelligent man cannot be a man of faith. From experience and history, however, we know that numerous people have found the very way to Bethlehem as a result of science. Yes, one can be a scientist and a believer! Even today, many leading scientists are people of great faith. Those scholars who have eyes to see and follow the light of the Lord do reach Bethlehem, and science is not bothering them, but rather helping. The famous French naturalist, scientist, philosopher and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin arrived at the following conclusion: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."
The second way to Bethlehem is reported by Luke the Evangelist. He writes that Joseph and Mary embarked on a journey to Bethlehem to fulfill their civic duty, to pay taxes, and to be registered for a census proclaimed by Caesar Augustus. Indeed, the journey to faith passes also through our daily lives; by our being law abiding citizens of United States of America, fulfilling our civic duty, taking care as parents of our children, loving and honoring our parents and family in our roles as children, honoring and expressing gratitude to our neighbor, loving each other, and just going outside and greeting people with a warm smile…
In this humble and simple way, God reveals himself to us, works miracles in our lives and leads us to the manger of Bethlehem --- to the cradle of our faith. Mary and Joseph didn’t think that seven hundred years ago the prophet Micah prophesied that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. No, it was just their civic duty to go to Bethlehem, and God worked a miracle in that way. He gave a Savior to the world, a bread for eternal life in the city of Bethlehem, which, you may know, means “house of bread.”
There is a yet another way to Bethlehem, the way of the shepherds, who went to Bethlehem receiving direct revelation. They received a vision from God, in which the angels announced the good news: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:11) Such revelations are not frequent happenings. In fact, they are given only to those pure in heart, as it says in the Beatitudes. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Shepherds came to deep faith through a supernatural, spiritual experience. This, then, is the excellent way to Bethlehem.
Of course, the Magi, the scientist, could cast doubt on the experience of the shepherds, who, in turn, could lessen the intellectual journey of the wise men. Neither the wise men, nor the shepherds, however, had any reason to disapprove of the journey of the Holy Family, who were just fulfilling their civic duty: going to be registered and pay their taxes.
In the life of faith, everyone is traveling his way, but what is important is that at the end of the journey all of us find ourselves together in Bethlehem, not at the Dead End of unbelief.
During the season of Advent, we are all invited to travel our personal “road to Bethlehem.” When we arrive at our destination on Christmas Day, we will hopefully be closer to the Lord than when we began the journey.
I wish that this year will be an excellent year of a spiritual journey for all of us. Let us never fear to face the many challenges and difficulties of the road. Indeed, when we see the bright and shining face of Baby Jesus, I am confident our spiritual weariness will disappear immediately, and, in spiritual joy, we’ll “glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen."