Thursday, 17 January 2013

O Little Town of Bethlehem

We spent last month retelling the Christmas story. There were angels who sang, and shepherds who ran, there were innkeepers who didn’t have any room, and there was a stable which was perfect because Mary’s baby would be born soon. All this singing and running and rooming and birthing happened in the little town of Bethlehem in Judea.

But this month there is another story emerging from another Bethlehem, the one in Tauranga, the one I can walk to from my little house on the hill. The story goes like this:

In Bethlehem in Tauranga there was a school. This school sent some students, some teachers, and some parents to a school in Ma’hanga in Kenya to build classrooms and to build
cross-cultural relationships. The people of Bethlehem were in a minivan on the Nairobi-Murang’a highway in the heavy rain. The van rolled and ran into a ditch. The crash claimed four lives and bruised many others.

This story feels like a far cry from the birth of Jesus Christ – a far, aching, guttural cry of grief.

But maybe it’s not too far. Jesus is known as the Suffering Servant; “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The birth of Jesus Christ isn’t separated from his death, it’s the same life we’re talking about, it’s the same story. The story of how God became human, the story of how God came to be with us, the story of how God came so we could be home. Christmas points to Easter, where God is bringing light from darkness, hope from despair, and life from death.

Life and death. These two stories go together, like this: life, death, life. This is true for those who died in the crash in Kenya too. These faithful followers of Christ have been living God’s story; their lives tell the tale of a God who is compassionate and generous and so full of love it overflows. Their death doesn’t change that. Life, death, life – that’s how the story goes.

But for those who remain, those recovering in hospital and those racked with grief, know this: the Risen Christ is with you, his scarred hands hold yours and his bruised body bears yours. Your story is a part of God’s story, your life is a part of God’s life. 

Behold! God is making all things new. From Bethlehem in Judea to Bethlehem in Tauranga and everywhere in between. Someday soon there will be singing and running and rooming and rebirthing.

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

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