Originally built in the fourth century and rebuilt in the sixth century, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest surviving Christian churches. Tourists can go down a flight of steps by the church altar to visit the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave traditionally held to be the actual birthplace of Jesus, including a silver star in the floor said to mark the exact spot.
As the presence of this church signifies, Bethlehem played a major role in the Christmas story. But in what sense can we as people see good news from a place? In the sense that it points, like many of the people we’ve studied, directly to God’s sovereignty and covenant-keeping faithfulness.
Bethlehem was the hometown of David, Israel’s greatest king, to whom God had made a promise of an eternal throne (see 1 Sam. 17:12; 2 Sam. 7:16). How fitting that Jesus, David’s descendant and the fulfillment of that promise, would be born in Bethlehem as well!
Interestingly, Gentiles are also involved in this aspect of the story. Mary and Joseph ended up in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth for the birth as a result of Caesar’s decision to conduct a census (vv. 1–3). The young couple had to go there to register for taxes. No doubt the ruler of the powerful Roman Empire believed he did this for policy reasons, but it’s further evidence that God is King over all nations, managing the big picture and every detail as He wills.
The prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem was apparently widely known (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:6; John 7:42). Both Mary and Joseph were from the line of David. At every level, Bethlehem, as the main setting of the Christmas story, stands clearly as a symbol of God’s authorship of redemption history.