Yesterday was the second Sunday in Advent – preparing for Christmas. According to Christian tradition, a second advent candle, often called the Bethlehem candle, is lit.
Throughout the Bible, Bethlehem speak of being ready for the unexpected…
…Jacob comes to Bethlehem. He already has eleven sons; Rachel, his favourite wife, is pregnant. Benjamin is born safely, but Rachel unexpectedly dies as she gives birth. Jacob is prepared for birth, but not death.
Elimelech and Naomi live in Bethlehem with their two sons. The unexpected happens; there’s a famine. The family flee to Moab as refugees. The sons marry. Tragedy strikes the family again; Elimelech and their two sons die.
Naomi returns to Bethlehem with Ruth, her widowed daughter-in-law. The unexpected happens. Ruth finds love, marries Boaz and they have a son.
Samuel, the prophet, goes to Bethlehem. He visits Ruth’s grandson, Jesse, to choose the next king of Israel. The king is not to be the oldest, good-looking son, or any of the seven sons there – all apparently excellent candidates.
The youngest brother, the teenager David, is called in from the fields and is unexpectedly anointed king; unexpectedly Bethlehem becomes ‘David’s city’.
Mary and Joseph are dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and an unexpected eighty mile journey to Bethlehem; an unwanted journey, at an inconvenient time, to visit an insignificant town. The baby is born in an unexpected place, in unexpected circumstances.
Later in the Christmas narrative Herod sends his soldiers to kill innocent baby boys in Bethlehem. Again it’s a place of unexpected death and people fleeing as refugees…
Advent is about getting ready. Usually preparations are about decorating, cooking, shopping, arranging visits. This year we’re preparing for the unexpected, for interruptions to our usual plans.
Bethlehem reminds us that being prepared for the unexpected may involve disappointment, sadness, even death. It also speaks of hope, love, birth and divine plans within the unexpected.