Why Bethlehem?

We have no evidence that Mary rode there. (PC Beliefnet)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! This Advent Season I reflected a bit on why God chose Bethlehem for the Savior’s birth. It seems inconvenient given that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, a 3-6 day journey away, and the road wasn’t exactly safe, and the third trimester isn’t a great time for what amounted to a backpacking trip, not to mention the stigma of a pregnancy that preceded the wedding. I get that it was announced centuries before and ties Jesus back to David (and Boaz & Ruth, Jacob & Rachel). God could have picked any couple and any town. So why this effort, risk, and suffering?

In all honestly, 2021 has included some seemingly superfluous effort, risk, and suffering for many, our family included. Yet in the service of a sovereign and omnipotent God, all of it has meaning and purpose. I’m sure the faith of Mary & Joseph was strengthened when they saw all that had been foretold them come to pass. Michelle & I have certainly seen God’s faithful hand open doors and provide myriad minor miracles for us to conceive again (Isaiah), get back to Burundi, and get installed in our house in Kibuye. We have seen Carlan’s broken face get repaired (and insurance reimburse us for that surgery). We have received >$250,000 in med school loans forgiven through the PSLF program (after 13 years of working and waiting). We have survived multiple bouts of COVID (twice for Carlan, once each for Michelle, Gabrielle, & Isaiah) and an infestation of bats in our new house.

Certainly these challenges and the kindly provision to endure them are not without parallel in your year, dear friend. Let us then encourage you that each trial is selected by our loving heavenly Father as a perfect instrument of grace to strengthen and perfect us. It was through pain and blood that Jesus entered the world and likewise through pain and blood that He brought salvation to it.* Who other than an infinitely wise God could weave such a tapestry of glory with bent tools and worsted threads? And if He chose effort, risk, and suffering for His own beloved Son, how should I presume to evade the same? Apparently, it is the highest, noblest path and the most blessed for myself, my family, and my world. 

So why Bethlehem? Because God always keeps His promises. Because a thousand years isn’t too long to wait for a prophecy fulfilled. Because God sees and cares for real people on real roads in even the smallest of details. Because the path of pain and travail bears forth in peace, joy, and love. 

May you find God’s peace, joy, and love in this and every season of life,Carlan, Michelle, Gabrielle, & Isaiah Wendler

[*Credit to Josh Garrels and this song for drawing this analogy for me.]