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DAY 23: THE GLORY OF THE LORD ACCORDING TO BETHLEHEM

Yesu en Rwoth

Amharic | Matthew 2:5–12, 16–18

 

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

– Matthew 2:6

 

In Bethlehem, the Saviour of All Arrived

Matthew heralds the good news that Jesus is the promised ruler from Bethlehem in Judah, the one who shepherds God’s people (Matthew 2:6). He affirms to his readers the continuity between the Old Testament and Jesus, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets!

At the same time, the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem to worship Jesus is an affirmation that God is the God not just of Israel but of all. God’s salvation in Christ was revealed to those outside of Israel. God met the Magi in their own place and practices, using the astrology they were skilled at to lead them to the one and only Saviour of the world.

In a pluralistic setting such as Ethiopia, one challenge Christians face is drawing boundaries. We tend to speak with certainty as to who is in and who is out of God’s kingdom. Maintaining a meaningful relationship with those we consider to be outsiders becomes increasingly difficult, and our vocabulary shrinks to a point that we find it challenging to hold a conversation with people who do not profess our faith. We, at times, preside as judges and fail to live as witnesses to Jesus Christ.

I remember a true story of a well–known African scholar who came to understand Jesus as Lord through reading other scriptures. Christians were not prepared to welcome him into their fellowship because they were suspicious of the means of God’s revelation he claimed to have received. The story of God finding the astrologers where they were is a great reminder. God’s ways of calling people to the knowledge of Christ are not limited to the ones we are used to.

This message also comes as a huge encouragement and affirmation to those who are despised for turning to Christ, accused of abandoning their tradition for a foreign one. Jesus is from Israel but for the world! Wherever we grew up, we are all part of God’s story of salvation in Jesus.

In Bethlehem, the Reality of Evil Hit Home

The same good news that caused the Magi to be overwhelmed with joy led Herod to act with great evil. Hoping to eliminate the threat from the baby king, Herod ordered the massacre of all boys under two. What a mixed story! The dawn of a new era, the coming of the Saviour, was accompanied by the death of innocent children.

This story resonates with what is happening in Ethiopia now—and with what happens over and over in the history of the world. Many children are killed because of conflict stirred by people frightened for their own power and position. We have fresh tears in our eyes, like mothers in Bethlehem, “… weeping for (our) children … refusing to be consoled, because they are no more.” The inclusion of this heartbreak in the account of our Saviour’s birth tells us we must not look away or pretend that it is fine. Until the Lord comes a second time, the kingdom advances with good news and hard realities intermixed.

I remember hearing the story of a mother who lost her child. Her pastor, trying to comfort her, got up to preach and read Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those …” As he was reading, the bereaved mother wrapped her head in her black shawl, covered her ears with her palms, and sobbed, “What good can come out of this? Why did God let my baby die?” These are the same questions we in Ethiopia grapple with today. Looking for some higher meaning behind the death of innocent people has worn us down. Instead, we cry out! In the words of Vinoth Ramachandra, we complain to God directly instead of complaining about God.1 We are not to deny our helplessness and anger in the face of death. Rather, as we cry, we keep our eyes on Jesus, whose parents experienced the terror of losing their son and who, Himself, went through death to ultimately put an end to it. We trust God who intervened. We pray that He would intervene and put an end to the conflict and war in our nation.

God’s good plan unfolds amid tears, pain, and loss. It involves great sacrifice, and God knows it. In Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus came as a fulfillment of God’s promises, and the most painful experience for the city’s mothers fulfilled Old Testament expectations. His glory unfolds through unexpected occurrences (the leading of the Magi) and painful experiences (the massacre of the children in Bethlehem). But the story did not end there. God is faithful to His promise of salvation, so we long for His second advent when there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain.

 

1 Vinoth Ramachandra, Sarah’s Laughter: Doubt, Tears, and Christian Hope (Carlisle, UK: Langham Publishing, 2020), 1–22.


Seble Daniel

DR SEBLEWENGEL DANIEL
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Dr Seblewengel Daniel is a Langham Scholar who serves as the Director of SIM East Africa Sending Office and teaches part time at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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