21 December 2007

"The Doctrine of Bethlehem" - part 3

Our serial reading of Pr. Berthold von Schenk's treatment of Bethlehem and Christmas, in his book The Presence (Ernst Kaufmann, Inc., 1945), continues with Chapter II, "The Vision of Bethelehem":

Chapter II
The Vision of Bethlehem

Are you an earnest seeker? Do you want Christmas to mean more than holly wreaths and tinsel? If so, let us inquire earnestly: “Where is Bethlehem?”

We have deepened our understanding of the doctrine of Bethlehem. The doctrine enshrined in Bethlehem is this: The little baby Jesus is God Himself, and still the little baby Jesus.

Why was He born a little baby? So that He could focus Himself on our thinking and feeling. Again, why did He become man? The answer which gives us the biggest lift is this: God became true man so that He could thereby bring us back to Himself.

How difficult it is to bring home the Christmas message! The Preacher wants Christmas to be a reality, to count, to mean something in people’s lives; but too often he finds that the people still thing of Christmas in terms of candles and holly wreaths. But it can be much more to us if we get the Vision of Bethlehem. How is this possible? Bethlehem, let us remember, cannot be rationalized. It can at least be realized. And if it is to be realized, then we must become really simple—simple enough to grasp the full implications of just one word—and that word is the key to the mystery of God, the mystery of our problems and troubled lives—and that word is Love. The mystery of Bethlehem is meaningful when we remember that God is Love.

Why did God create man? What was His motive? Why—love, and love cannot be anything else but itself. God made us because He loved us. What does God desire of us? What does love always desire? Love does not ask for gifts. Love asks for love. “I don’t want your gifts,” says the maid to her lover, “I want you.” Why this? Because love must always give itself to and for the beloved. If love were to give anything else but love, it would not be real love. Now this little baby in Bethlehem is God. It is love, it is God giving Himself.

Mark you, Bethlehem reveals its secret only to those who receive the simple truth that God is Love, and Love can never be satisfied with anything less than Love. When we realize that God is Love, Bethlehem must follow. It would almost seem to us that it all could have been no different from God’s point of view if it would fulfill this loving purpose with man. Because God is Love, Love had to give itself. It did give itself. The Child in Bethlehem was born because God love the world.

But let us see this from man’s point of view.

God is love. He made us because He loved us, and He gave Himself at Bethlehem. But there is more to this. He gave Himself so that we could love Him in return! To love God is man’s highest destiny. Thus Bethlehem teaches man his highest destiny, his greatest goal, and if people could find the way to Bethlehem, all problems and difficulties could be solved.

What is man at his best? Is not a child of God at his best always when he gropes after God? The poet realized this: “ As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul for thee, O God, My soul thristeth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” This is not the cry of a helpless fanatic. This is the cry of a man at his best. The most precious longing of the heart is to be at one with God. Jesus expressed this with His own precious lips on the night before He died, when He prayed for His disciples in that high-priestly prayer: “That they also may be one in us; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” We are to be one with God through our faith in Christ—by our surrender to Him. This union with God through our Lord Jesus Christ is to be so real, so complete, that the very love with which the Father love the Son, that is, the very divine Love itself, the love of Bethlehem, the love of Calvary, is to RADIATE IN AND THROUGH US. That is our destiny. There can be no other destiny than this. We are to be so completely at one with God that our weak love is caught up with His divine love. And the result is that we become channels of the divine love to others. Not a love like the divine love, but the very divine love itself. Therefore Jesus said, “…that the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them.” Our destiny then, is to love with the divine love. It cannot be otherwise. We know that this is true. In our best moments we know it is true. It is the only thing which can keep us sane. Therefore, since that first Christmas Eve, the Christian in his deepest moments, has turned to Bethlehem—sometimes with hope, often almost with despair, but he turns to it as the sweetest thing in the history of man. He turns to Bethlehem because Bethlehem shows him his highest destiny—to love. Thus Christmas must be a vision of divine love. This is the HOPE OF THE WORLD. The story of Bethlehem is important, but the receiving of the Bethlehem Love is Life (pp. 44-47, emphasis original).

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