BETHLEHEM AND HER CHILDREN
THE BABE OF BETHLEHEM
One thousand and fifteen years after the death of David, while the Romans had the land of Judea in subjection, an edict was issued by Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, that all the provinces under his rule should be taxed; and consequently each individual, of every tribe, was obliged to repair to his or her respective city, to be enrolled and assessed. All the lineal descendants of David were to appear in Bethlehem, the city of David; and consequently, for many days previous to the set time, great preparations were making in that place for the reception of guests.
At length the whole country was on the move. Some at the south were travelling north, while others at the north were wending their way to their southern birthplaces. Bethlehem's gates were thrown open, and her long absent sons and daughters once more greeted each other within her walls. Strangers too in groups, or singly, arrived and sought the inn, till every resting-place was occupied.
Seventy miles north of Bethlehem, in Nazareth, were Joseph and Mary, enjoying the quiet of their new home, when the decree reached them; and in obedience to its commands, they gathered up a sufficiency for the journey, and set forward for Bethlehem. It was a long journey; and though the young wife received every attention that could be given by her kind husband, yet she arrived in the city and before the door of the inn wearied and ill.
To the husband's inquiries for a resting-place, it was replied, that there was no room for them in the inn; and having no kind friend to open to them the door of hospitality, they were obliged to take lodgings in the place prepared for beasts, where they uncomplainingly made themselves as comfortable as the circumstances would allow.
Night drew her sable curtains over Judea's hills, and darkness settled down upon her valleys. The sweet songsters of the groves had warbled forth their evening praises, and with a protecting wing over their defenceless heads were rocked to sleep by the breath of their Creator. The sacrificial knife was sheathed; the beasts of the field had lain down to rest, and the lambs of the flock had been gathered into the fold. Shepherds on the distant hill-sides lay upon the grass. The tramp of beasts and the voice of the newly arrived stranger in the city died away, the gates were closed, and Bethlehem slept.
But that night angels were crowding in the battlements of heaven with wonder, and numberless bright spirits sped their way over airy roads to earth, and poising on tireless wings, hovered over Bethlehem. And not angels only. Satan, the great archenemy of all that is good, marshaled, without doubt, his malignant legions upon her plains, with demoniac rage and hatred, to destroy or defeat this great miracle of mercy about to be performed. The hour which he had so long expected, and towards which the eyes of the whole universe had been turned for ages, had now arrived. Never before had so startling a blow been struck at Satan's power. Heaven, earth, and hell, met that night upon the hills of Bethlehem, when God the mighty Creator took upon himself the form of the creature, and became man. Heaven rejoiced; hell groaned; man slept!
Could those assembled at Bethlehem have seen the hosts of spirits, good and evil, that surrounded them, would they not have cried out in terror, and eagerly inquired the cause? But they slept on, and the thrill of joy that electrified heaven was all unknown to them.
An angel burning to carry the glad news of a Saviour born, flew on swift wing, and hovering over the shepherds, exclaimed, "Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peach, good-will towards men."
The shepherds were amazed and alarmed at the vision that had so unexpectedly appeared to them; and as they looked and wondered in breathless suspense, the angels rose higher and higher, till they were lost to view.
Recovering from their surprise, the shepherds said one to another, "Let us go even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." It is probable that they were not far from Bethlehem, and as they went with haste, they were perhaps there by the time the city was astir in the morning. They soon found Joseph and Mary, and also the babe, which as the angel had said, was lying wrapped in coarse cloths in a manger.
Filled with amazement and joy at what they had seen and heard, they immediately told those whom they met of the wonderful event that had occurred during the night, and the manner of its being made known to them. This excited surprise and curiosity, and many gathered around the infant stranger. But the babe appeared like any other poor child, surrounded with the accompaniments of poverty and destitution; stubborn unbelief fastened upon the multitude, and they turned again to their business or pleasure, and the story of the shepherds was almost forgotten.
Bethlehem before had been the birthplace of an earthly king; it had now become the birthplace of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Never was such honor bestowed upon any spot of earth, and never can men cease to wonder at this strange manifestation of divinity united with humanity. This God-man, a being unlike all others, was not of the order of angels, for it was not that class of beings he came to benefit. Nor was he merely man; for had he been, he could not have accomplished his mission. Nor yet was he God alone; for in that nature only he could not have taken upon him our infirmities nor borne our griefs. But he was both God and man. The Most High took the form of an infant, and was a mark for hateful men and malignant devils; and while all heaven was rejoicing that the door of mercy was opened to ruined man, devils and men conspired to shut it, and leave the world in midnight gloom for ever.
When Satan saw that Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, was beyond his power, he determined to accomplish his designs through the agency of man. Herod, who was surnamed the Great, became and easy and ready tool, and willingly followed out Satan's suggestions. He dispatched a number of soldiers to destroy all the little boys of Bethlehem, and so make sure of Jesus' death. These hard-hearted men suddenly entered the city, and commenced their horrible work. Who can imagine that deep, heart-rending wail, that burst from the parents of Bethlehem that day? The soldiers entered every house, and every hearthstone was stained with blood. In every home was left the bloody, mangled corpse of the little one, with hands still stretching out imploringly for help. In vain did mothers madly rush from their own roofs with the lisping infants clinging to their necks. The soldiers pursued them, and these first martyrs for Christ were slain in their mother's arms. Rachel, who was buried near this scene of carnage, is represented in Scripture as "weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they were not."
But while Herod was executing his malignant hatred upon the babes of Bethlehem, the infant Jesus, the object of his wrath, was quietly sleeping in his mother's arms in the land of Egypt, far beyond his reach. So easily does God accomplish his own purposes, in spite of the combined wisdom of earth and hell.
Herod did not long continue his course of crime. God cut him off by a dreadful disease; and when his Archelaus had ascended the throne, and angel was sent to Egypt to call back the Babe of Bethlehem. Joseph immediately obeyed the summons; but fearing that the new king inherited the cruelty of his father, he passed by Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and stopped at Nazareth, in the central part of Galilee, where he had formerly lived—preferring to be under the rule of Philip, whom he knew to be of a gentle and quiet disposition.
Nazareth, which now became the home of Christ, and probably remained so till he arrived at manhood, is a small city on the west side of mount Tabor. It stood on the side and the foot of an eminence overlooking a small but beautiful valley. At this day it is a town of some importance, having a population of about three thousand industrious inhabitants, part of whom are Turks and part nominal Christians.
What it was in the time of Christ, we do not know, except that it contained a synagogue in which he preached, and where his hearers, being astonished and vexed at the wisdom of Joseph's son, rushed upon him, and led him out of the city to the brow of the hill, to cast him down; but he released himself from their grasp, and passing through the midst of them, went on his way. Being rejected by his own townsmen, he removed to Capernaum.
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