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Journey To Bethlehem!

1 Samuel 16: 1-13

By now pilgrims are arriving each day in the ancient village of Bethlehem.
Over 1900 years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem.
His name was Jesus.

In this holy place little groups will huddle together to listen to a pastor or a leader read the old, old story
from Luke's gospel.
They will probably sing a carol written by an American pastor, Phillips Brooks, who visited the village
of Bethlehem and was so deeply moved that he went home that night,
and wrote, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

It is in the 16th chapter of 1 Samuel that we read the word given to Samuel: "Go to Bethlehem."

Remember, hundreds of years later the shepherds said to each other, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see
this thing which has happened, which the Lord has made known to us
Bethlehem was the setting of the Book of Ruth.
Ruth was the mother of Obid, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David.

Today, as we listen to the text of 1 Samuel 16, we focus on the theme, "Journey to Bethlehem."

Christmas is God's action, not ours.
At the heart of everything that surrounds Christmas, there is the good news of a God who communicates with us.

"The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I rejected him for being king over Israel?''
Underline with me that question: "How long will you grieve?"

God never condemns our sorrow.
In fact we have the unforgettable picture in the New Testament of Jesus standing beside the tomb of a friend, weeping.
He simply asks, "How long will you grieve over that broken relationship?

" How long will you grieve over...?"
Prolonged grief can be a form of self punishment.

No doubt Samuel felt a tremendous sense of responsibility and grief over Saul.
Saul was the tallest, the most handsome, and the brightest prospect in all of Israel to be the first king.
After he was anointed by Samuel, it wasn't long before he began to rebel.
He began to put his own will and purposes first, and to disobey God.

The journey to Bethlehem is the announcement of a new possibility.
It is a word of hope about a new life.
Bethlehem is the symbol of the surprising future that God now presents to us.

This is the day before the journey to Bethlehem!
The journey continues in spite of of our fears.

It is interesting to read that the journey to Bethlehem was a dangerous journey.
A thousand years before King Herod had tried to trick the wise men
into revealing the location and identity of the newborn King,
Samuel was terrified of his journey to Bethlehem to face King Saul.

Samuel asked, "How can I go (to Bethlehem)? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." (Verse 2)
Fear had paralyzed Samuel.
He was afraid to move forward.
The purposes of evil will be served, if we become afraid to the point that we will no longer venture forward
in commitment and faith.

It is amazing to read in the very next verse that when Samuel arrived at Bethlehem,
the elders came out to meet him with trembling and asked, "Do you come peaceably?"

Why was Bethlehem people so frightened? Now they have a king. The journey to Bethlehem really confronts us with the reality of the power of fear, and of anxiety, and of insecurity.

Phillips Brooks wrote, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."
The question is, which is going to win?
Which will ultimately prevail in your life -- the hopes or the fears?

The journey moves forward in commitment and sacrifice.
Samuel told the trembling elders at Bethlehem that he had come peacefully to sacrifice to the Lord.

Then, he gave the people a great challenge.
He said, "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; consecrate yourselves and come with me
to the sacrifice
." (Verse 5)

The authentic journey to Bethlehem is not a sentimental diversion from real life.
It is for the good of our own soul that we hear this wise prophet of the Lord as he says,
"I have come to sacrifice to the Lord! Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice."

That is the word I hear today: "consecrate yourselves."

God doesn't say in the midst of pressures and problems: "hide yourselves," or "defend yourselves,
" or "protect yourselves."
He says, "Consecrate yourselves."

That is the only answer to fear.

A young shepherd boy of Bethlehem found that to be true.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." We are to understand that we are set apart from the world for a purpose that relates
to God's ongoing purpose in history.
That is why personal acts of consecration have tremendous importance.
God wants us to discover the freedom and joy that surpasses the secular or worldly bondage,
and that kind of freedom and joy is found only through complete consecration to the Lord.

The journey concludes in joy and hope.

Samuel already knew that he did not have to choose the new king.
He had been told that God had chosen the king from among the sons of Jesse.
One by one his sons were paraded before Samuel.
Finally, Samuel told Jesse that not one of his seven sons had been chosen.

He then asked, "Are all your sons here?"

Jesse hesitated and then finally said,
"There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep."
This was a polite way of saying that he was not a candidate.

Samuel insisted, "Go down and fetch him for we will not sit down until he comes here."
They went out to get David.

Samuel took one look at him and heard an inner confirmation from the Lord in his own heart, saying,
"Arise, anoint him; for this is he."
Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord
came mightily upon David from that day onward.

"Now David, I want to tell you something. Even Samuel would have to say that he didn't see David's potential.
Only God could see the hidden greatness that was there.
God believed in him.
It was His Spirit that came upon David and gave him strength and courage.

There is no one on this earth that knows your full potential.
Only God knows the real possibilities of your life.
The depth of this confidence is seen in the cross of Jesus Christ. He says to this little shepherd, "Your kingdom is going to last forever."

Hundreds of years later, when the earthly kingdom of David was crumbling, and it seemed that there was
no hope for the future; the line of David looked like a great tree that had just been sawed off
leaving nothing but an old stump.

But the prophet Isaiah saw a little green shoot appearing from what looked like that lifeless stump. (Isaiah 11: 1-3)
There will be times when the future will look as hopeless and as bleak as that old stump.
But God is a creative, victorious Lord who is bringing forth new life from the old stumps. In Bethlehem God entered our human existence.
That baby born in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of that promise that David's kingdom would not end.
Through faith in Jesus, you and I are part of that kingdom.

We should feel the exhilaration and the joy and the hope that are ours as children of the King of kings
and the Lord of lords.
The journey to Bethlehem has sent us free.
Imagine yourself walking down an ancient road.
Visualize yourself entering that little cave behind the Bethlehem Inn where there are animals.
Now, see a father and a mother and a little baby in the manger.

Consider the miracle of God's gift of Himself in this Child.
How could this be?
In the little town of Bethlehem, in such a humble place is a tiny, helpless little baby -- how could this be?

Bret Harte, in his classic short story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp," told of the birth
of a baby on the American frontier.

One woman in the mining camp named, Cherokee Sal, was a woman with a bad reputation.
She was the only woman in the mining camp.
She died in childbirth, leaving a healthy young baby boy to be raised by the men of the camp.

These rough, hard men made a decision that would reflect the changes that would come later.
They considered hiring a woman nurse to care for the baby, but eventually, they decided otherwise.
Their logic was this: a nice nurse wouldn't come to their camp, and they didn't want any more women
who weren't nice hanging around their baby.

So the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp.

The cabin where "Tommy Luck," as they called him, was kept meticulously clean and whitewashed.
The beautiful rosewood cradle that they purchased for the baby made the rest of the cabin look wretched,
so they had to fix up the rest of the furniture in the room.

Then a quarantine was imposed on those who wanted to hold little Tommy Luck, so they had to clean up
for the privilege of holding him.
Each act of cleanliness exposed that much more dirt and filth in the vicinity, so that new measures were taken
to keep an ever-wider expanse of the camp clean.

Since the baby needed rest, the camp became quieter and more dignified, and less noisy and boisterous.
It was no longer the "Roaring Camp" of the story's title.

The story of the baby of Roaring Camp is the story of the regeneration of a people.
It is a Christmas story, for, you see when the Baby of Bethlehem was escorted into this earth by the legions of angels.
He dramatically changed all of those with whom He came in contact.
He still does!

God is still bringing new life and new hope from the old stumps of our lives.

"Our Father,

We adore Thee; we praise Thee; we lift our hearts in gratitude to Thee.
We bow at the manger in simplicity and in truth.
Our eyes are filled with wonder and our hearts with peace.
We bow to lay our gifts at the feet of the Christ Child.

We thank Thee for the new light which shines upon our path,
for without it all would be gloom and darkness.
We thank Thee that because of Christ our sadness has turned to gladness,
our sorrow has turned to joy, our burdens have been lifted,
our sins have been forgiven, and our hearts will be forever grateful.

We pray for those who are unaware of their need of Thee,
and of Thy ability and willingness to help them.
Draw near to those who cannot come close because they were once hurt.
Be close to those who are hard on themselves
because life is not perfect and neither are they.

Help those who toil, but do not earn enough to meet expenses.
Chastise those who work at degrading others.
Draw those to Thee who want to come close -- those who are catching a vision,
and who feel the tug of the Spirit and the call of Jesus Christ.

It is in the name Christ that we pray, Amen

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
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