What Is the Bethlehem Story?

The world knows the story, but how few know the Saviour.

Marjorie Lewis Lloyd
What Is the Bethlehem Story?

Welcome to Adventist Review’s Retro Christmas

In this short series over the holidays, we’ll be bringing you Christmas articles from years past. Why explore vintage Adventist Review? Because the reason for the season never changes. So sit back and join us as we revisit Christmas from the pages of Adventist Review. Perhaps what you read and hear will be nothing new, or maybe, just maybe, these thoughts on the miracle of the Savior coming to us as a baby will ignite or reignite something beautiful in your heart. From our Adventist Review Ministries family to yours, blessings for a beautiful Christmas season.—Enno Müller, news editor

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field—”

Nineteen hundred years ago Luke wrote it. This month, this week, the story echoes round and up and down and through the world.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them—”

It is amazing how much of the vocabulary of Luke’s story the world knows, but how little of its thought.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

The world knows the story, but how few know the Saviour.

We have grown up with the syllables of the story. The carols, the starlight, the stable straw, the angels, the Wise Men, the joy, the gifts, the trees, the holly. Yes, and the shopping, the baking, the wrapping, the rushing, the paying for months after the holidays have gone.

We have grown up with the story. But all of it is only tawdry tinsel unless we know this Jesus of whom the story tells. Who is He? Why did He come? Two-thirds of the people in this world know nothing about Bethlehem, so ’tis said. Could you explain the story to them? Could you tell them who this Jesus is, and why He came? What is the Bethlehem story?

Oh, I know the world is celebrating the birth of Jesus on a date with a more than questionable background. We cannot soundly attach any special religious significance to the approaching twenty-fifth of December. But now, while the windows of the world are open toward Bethlehem, would it not be appropriate for us to think of what happened there?

Is the story only flimsy fiction made of straw and stars? Did Jesus really live? If He did, was He only a prince of good will, a good man who thought up the golden rule?

Settle it once for all. Jesus was more than just a good man. He claimed to be the Son of God. He told the truth, or He lied. This Jesus, then, is and must be exactly who He claimed to be—the Son of the living God.

If He is the Son of God, why did He leave heaven and come to earth? What is the story? Can we get behind the words and the wrappings, the syllables and the tinsel, and find the real story of what happened at Bethlehem in all its lovely simplicity?

The story in its simplest form is found in that best-loved text: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We know the syllables, but have they reached our hearts? Do we know that God gave His Son—not loaned, but gave Him to a fallen race, never to be returned? And He gave Him not to a race of people endowed with natural immortality, but to a people who could perish, would perish, without Him. That is the story.

The Gospel of Salvation

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” That is the gospel—not a gospel alone of forgiveness but a gospel of power to stop sinning. That is what the angels were singing about over Bethlehem.

You can read it in Isaiah’s fifty-eighth chapter. You can read it in the fifty-third chapter. Jesus Himself read it from the sixty-first (see Luke 4:16-21). Isaiah knew far more about the Babe of Bethlehem and His mission than the world today has learned.

Why did Jesus come to Bethlehem? Look back into heaven’s past. Listen until you hear the first note of discord’s ugly song clanging against heaven’s perfect harmony. It was a harsh, repeated chant that made of God a tyrant. It was to counteract this opera of sabotage that the angels sang their lovely song over Bethlehem—a song that expressed God’s real thoughts toward men, that revealed the unselfish love and true character of God, a song that brought peace and good will. That is how Heaven feels about earth. That is why the angels sang, and that is why Jesus came to earth. The Bethlehem story is the story of God’s supreme effort to counteract the lies of the enemy.

The story does not end with Bethlehem where the world leaves it every year to be taken up again. The most thrilling, most endearing chapters tell of His walk through Gethsemane to the cross and up through an open tomb to glory.

But the Babe of Bethlehem lives today in the hearts of those who love Him. And so we may not only hear the story: we may see it lived again.

In the medical missionary who walks where He walked, in the path of teaching and healing, you have seen it. In the pastor who counsels with the discouraged one in his study, you have seen it. In the humble layman who brings the needy to his home, you have seen it. You have seen it in every effort to show men how God, our Father above, really feels about them.

The world cannot go back to Bethlehem. We must take Bethlehem to it—and with it the rest of the story. The world cannot look into the face of the Babe in the manger. The only halo they will see will be the light reflected in the happy Christian’s face. Your friends and your neighbors cannot stand on Calvary’s hill and feel the love of the dying Saviour, regardless of how vividly you or your preacher may picture it. The only way some of them will ever know that love is by the way you stand by them in trouble. The folks in your block, and your own family, cannot watch with the disciples as the Saviour ascends into the waiting heavens. They may never be convinced He lives unless He lives in your heart.

Not the syllables, not the words, not the tawdry tinsel. The story of Bethlehem is every effort on God’s part, on your part, on my part, to show that the enemy and his lies are all wrong, to show how Heaven really feels about earth. Peace—good will to men. Those are God’s thoughts toward us. And that is the Bethlehem story!

The article originally appeared in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 22, 1955.

Marjorie Lewis Lloyd

Marjorie Lewis Lloyd