…and thou, Bethlehem

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by Lloyd Docter –

This is a Christmas scene without Christmas trees …
Without tinsel and red and green lights …
Without stockings hung hopefully by cheerful fireside …
Without laughing children!
This is a Christmas scene without the hospitality … the kindness …
The friendly remembrance of yule.

This is the first Christmas eve as it was.

Because of it, December 25th is now Merry Christmas
And not merely another date on the calendar of events
In a year designated six thousand, and something.
Because of it, civilization turned from east to west …
From candlelight to electricity …
From camelback to speed of sound on wings across the heavens.
Because of it, slender spires reach to touch the sky …
Deserts blossom like the roses of Jericho …
And carillons sing “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Mankind.”

And thou Bethlehem, in the land Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people, Israel.

Thou, Bethlehem of Judea!
Sleepy little town of Bethlehem …
Purple and blue under spangled sky …
Wrapped in a blanket of twilight.

One by one, your blinking windows close their eyes upon the night,
While behind cedar tavern doors bright laughter rings
And sparkling vintage moistens lips that kiss and curse!

Thou, Bethlehem … unhappy, crowded Bethlehem!
Within your gates are pilgrims from the countryside around …
From lake and sea, from verdant meadows
Beyond your bleak and watching mountains,
Grim sentinels that rim your dark horizon:
For tomorrow, Caesar’s tribute must be laid before the agents of the king,
Where greedy hands will cut the spoil of conquest and suppression.

Thou, Bethlehem … a prison now
Where slaves pay homage to a distant foe.
Freedom has fled your gates, O Bethlehem …
And only fading promise holds your hope
That some soon, sweet day deliverance may come …
A Savior who will lift the nation’s face
Too long by Roman cruelty obscured!

And still they come …
From Giloh and Gedor …
From Hebron and Hareth …
From Rabah and Rock Etom …
By ox-cart and carriage …
By camelback and royal entourage …
By heavy footsteps …
And by stumbling, staggering burro
Whose hoof-beats clatter as they go!

Yes … by stumbling ass upon whose back is borne the maid
For whom the stars shine bright o’er Bethlehem.

Knowest thou, Bethlehem of Judea that within your gates
Has come deliverance for the world?
Knowest thou, Bethlehem, that those clattering hoofbeats
Pound out the rhythm of your liberation?
Knowest thou, that the sand is low within the glass
And time has run its course?
God has cast a dye for the eternities …
And a girl returns home to mother a Messiah!

Awaken, sleepy village …
Throw wide your doors of oak and cedar …
Make way for the King!

There is no room in the inns of Bethlehem …
No room for him of whom the prophets sang
Wonderful counselor…mighty God … prince of peace!

Thou, Bethlehem … troubled Bethlehem,
Faded Bethlehem, sinful Bethlehem …
Why do your palace roofs shine bright tonight?
What makes your domes and minarets reflect the sky?
The very heavens have conspired to make a shrine of you,
And one bright star moves almost to the tips of lofty cedars.
While you sleep, a girl awaits whose trembling body bears your king …
No cot, nor one friendly voice to lend her comfort on this Christmas eve!

Thou, Bethlehem, within your ivied walls
Your storied palaces … your humble dwellings
The good, the bad, the ill, the aged,
The evil, compassionate, avaricious, mean
Sleep side by side,
And in the forests, lepers cry, “Unclean!”
You cannot heal their wounds …
Nor soothe the comfortless …
Nor change from ill to good …
From stain to purity …
From jealous wrath to loyal trust!
Thou, Bethlehem, your kings and princes cannot mend the heart …
The spirit riven by an unrelenting fate!
But he, who lies yet unborn within your gates,
A panacea for the ills of all mankind, can cure your woes.
The only pure man ever born to woman
Awaits his advent to a world that wants him not
As stars move strangely in heavens over Bethlehem!

Thou, Bethlehem, the ills of all the world lie at thy doors
And the heart of him to bear them beats unborn within thy portals.
Thou, Bethlehem!
Time stops tonight …
For with that first, faint, feeble cry of infancy
Your days are numbered new!
Tear down your calendars, past remnants of a forgotten age!
Start new tonight, O Bethlehem,
For this is Christmas eve, and everything the world records
henceforth dates from this little minute.

Start new tonight, O world!
Tonight in Bethlehem
The sins, the fears, the suffering and tears
Of all mankind are solaced by a baby’s feeble cry!
Had you but known, O Bethlehem,
Your king would not a beggar be on this first Christmas eve,
And all your doors be closed against your Lord.

What do you see, bright star of eastern heavens?
What do you see in the slumbering village of Bethlehem?
No white hospital cot with sterile linen,
No starched, trim nurses,
No surgeons scrubbing up,
No trays of silver instruments,
No sterile gauze nor clean cotton,
No willing hands trained to the task!
These you do not see, star of the east over Bethlehem!
These good things came because of him
To ease the pain and travail of millions yet unborn
While she who bears him trembles in the night!

What do you see, O star of Bethlehem?
A shameful, sinful, tearful, lonesome world!
And Bethlehem, proud home of kings, is now an empty travesty.
You see a stable, too … a dank stone cave
That reeks with odors from the beasts that carry men’s load,
Neglected, dark, cob-webby, leaking barn
Open to the wind and weather on one side.
And only clean, the manger, where lies soft, sweet hay
To feed the patient burro and the lowing ox …
A cradle now for him destined to bear the burdens of the world forevermore!

Rest quiet now, thou, Bethlehem,
She sleeps who bears your Lord while Joseph watches by,
And shepherds on the hills their vigil keep.
Above, from heaven’s ramps, uncounted legions and unseen look down.
The stars shine brightly now,
And one star … one brilliant shining orb
Leans gently from the azure of the sky
To send its beams within the stable door!

Wise men trek from east to west, and following
Will civilization come.
World’s destiny to trace his footsteps in the sand
From the manger to the cross,
This cooing, cuddling babe whose head
Rests on Mary’s bosom soft.

And thus, in Bethlehem on Christmas day
Jesus of Nazareth was born …
The sweetest, kindest Christmas gift this world has yet received.
A gift of peace within the hearts of men,
A formula for peace among the nations of the world
Who own his name,
Who turn their eyes from hate
And ring the bells that sing good will to all!

Let fanfare sound!
Let happy voices ring and children laugh!
And Bethlehem … thou, Bethlehem
The gift you brought on that first Christmas day
Has changed the course of destiny!
You started time anew,
And that bright star has lighted beacons everywhere
To guide mankind to safe havens from the storm,
A rock of ages ‘gainst the swelling tide …
And hope for mankind forevermore!

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