Malankara World


     A Wonderful Night: An Interpretation of Christmas

By James H. Snowden

VI. The Town of Bethlehem

The land of Palestine is divided from north to south by a central range of mountains which runs up through this narrow strip of country like a spinal column. About five miles south of Jerusalem a ridge or spur shoots off from the central range towards the east. On the terminal bluff of this ridge lies the town of Bethlehem. On the west it is shut in by the plateau, and on the east the ridge breaks steeply down into the plain. Vineyards cover the hillsides with green and purple, and wheatfields wave in the valleys. In the distant east, across the Dead Sea, the mountains of Moab are penciled in dark blue against the sky.

At the present time the town has eight thousand inhabitants. Its flat-roofed houses are well built and its narrow streets are clean. It is a busy place, its chief industry being the manufacture of souvenirs of olive wood which are sold throughout the Christian world. Its principal church is the Church of the Nativity, which is built over a cave that is one of the most sacred and memorable spots on the globe. It is believed that this cave is the place where Christ was born, and a silver star inlaid in the stone floor is intended to mark the exact spot. It was then used as the stable of the adjoining inn, and in its stone manger the infant Jesus may have been laid.

At the time of this event Bethlehem was a mere village of a few hundred people. It might have been thought that Jerusalem, the historic metropolis and proud capital of the country, the chosen city of God and seat of the temple and center of worship, a city beautiful for situation, magnificent in its architecture, sacred in its associations and world-wide and splendid in its fame, should have been honored with this supreme event in the history of the Jews. But an ancient prophet, while noting its comparative insignificance, had yet put his finger on this tiny point on the map and pronounced upon it a blessing that caused it to blaze out like a star amidst its rural hills. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” And so proud Jerusalem was passed by, and this supreme honor was bestowed upon the humble village.

Great men, as a rule, are not born in cities. They come up out of obscure villages and hidden nooks and corners. They originate closer to nature than city-born men and seem to spring from the very soil. The most noted birthplace in Scotland is that of Burns: it is a humble cottage with a thatched roof and a stable in one end of it. The most celebrated birthplace in England is that of Shakespeare, and again it is a plain cottage in a country village. Lincoln was born in a log hut in the wilds of Kentucky, Mohammed was the son of a camel driver, and Confucius the son of a soldier. The city must go to the country for its masters, and the world draws its best blood and brains from the farm. It was in accordance with this principle that the Saviour of the world should be born, not in a city and palace, but in a country village, and that his first bed should be, not a downy couch, but a slab of stone.


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