Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

An ancient garrison

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 11, 2021. Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. (2 Samuel 23:14)

This verse caught me off guard. In my mind, the sleepy little town of Bethlehem is the sacred ground where the Christ will be born. It’s hard to imagine it occupied by Israel’s age-old enemy, the Philistines.

On our recent trip to Israel, we did get to visit Bethlehem, but that was a very different part of our tour. You see, Bethlehem is in a Palestinian-controlled part of of the west bank of the Jordan. As our tour bus approached the entry checkpoint our Jewish tour guide and our Jewish bus driver stepped out. They were not permitted entry under an agreement worked out in the Oslo peace accords of 1993 and 1995. Two Arab residents took their place and escorted us into the city.

While the number of Christian tourists in the city swells during the Christmas season, less than 3% of the residents are Christian. While many shops cater to those seeking Christian souvenirs, Muslim influence predominates. Jesus, who was born to save both Jew and Gentile alike, is not welcome in the place of his birth.

David must have been dismayed to find his hometown occupied by the enemy he had been fighting his whole life. He’s famous for defeating the Philistine champion Goliath. His fans sang songs about the ten thousands he killed in battle. Now his enemies seemed to have the upper hand.

We know how that feels. Whether you call the enemy sin, death or the devil himself, the opposition occupies our world. Those of us who believe in Jesus aren’t welcome in the public square or sometimes even in our own homes. Yet just as Jesus was born into such a city and such a world, so we have been “born again” into enemy territory. When you feel outnumbered or overwhelmed, take to heart his word that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Jesus’ gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation always have the final word in this world and in our lives.

Thank you, Lord, for invading this world with your gifts of grace. I’ll trust your promise to be more than a conqueror! Amen.

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