Bedlam in Bethlehem

Ironically, the word bedlam is a corruption of the word Bethlehem which literally means house of bread.  But in the 1500’s, the London monastery known as St. Mary of Bethlehem was converted from a monastic hospital into a city-run insane asylum.  For a small admission price, people could visit the asylum and heckle the inmates.  Although the practice may sound horrible, astonishingly enough, it became one of London’s most famous tourist attractions.

Eventually, the asylum’s name was shortened to Bethlehem and when people hurriedly said the word, the slur became BEDLAM.  As time went on “bedlam” became to mean “noisy uproar and confusion” which symbolized the happenings within an insane asylum.  Yet, this word is an apt description of what happens in the days prior to Christmas.  What ever happened to peace on earth?  Or peace in the malls?  Or peace in the family when Santa failed to deliver the right goods?

The first Christmas at Bethlehem in Israel was probably a scene of bedlam as well.  Noise and confusion abounded as people poured into the town to register for the census.  Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken every 14 years for the purposes of drafting men into the Roman army and to assess taxation.  The census mentioned by the gospel writer Luke was taken in 7 BC.

The mention of a census is important because it pinpoints the Incarnation - when God came to earth in human form.  It documents the reality of the birth of Christ.  The census was an historical fact.  Since the census was a recorded and documented event, there is no legitimate reason to deny the fact that an unusual birth occurred in Bethlehem in or around 7 BC.

A Bethlehem Christmas is about Christ who was born in the city of David in fulfillment of prophecy.  The prophet Micah had foretold that “Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah” would be the city from which Messiah would come (Micah 5:2).  Joseph and Mary, descendants of David, were led to Bethlehem because of a government decree to register their family.  And there in a stable in the town that meant house of bread, the Bread of Life would be born.

Christ was born to die in fulfillment of God’s promise to provide a sacrifice, an atonement, for the sins of mankind.  This Messiah would take the punishment for sin which all of us deserve, for the Scripture says no one is good (Romans 3:12).  A Bethlehem Christmas is a reminder that Jesus was the bread of life in that His sacrifice on the cross was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which said that Messiah bore our iniquities as a guilt offering, was pierced through for our transgressions, and was poured out unto death on our behalf (Isa. 53:4,5, & 12).

Christmas is a time for celebrating the Incarnation.  This should be done with joy and festivities.  Traditions should be honored and gift giving practiced, but not to the degree that the true meaning of Christ is camouflage.  Observe a Bethlehem Christmas by remembering that a child was born to die for you. Merry Christmas!