At first thought Bethlehem seems far from Calvary. That holy night of Christmas when “stars were brightly shining”—how different from the profane darkness of Black Friday that blinded the midday sun. Humble strangers came from nearby fields, wise and proud ones from faraway lands to adore the Christ-child; but bosom companions betrayed and abandoned the God-man. Between the innocent grace of an infant cradled in the arms of a peasant girl and the awesome grandeur of a mature man hung from the limbs of a Roman gibbet, crucified for sedition and heresy, there is stark and terrible contrast.
Yet more compelling than the contrast is the complementary meaning of the Crèche and the Cross. Eleanor Slater suggests this truth in a poem called “December Twenty-Fourth,” which concludes:
Tomorrow You are born again
Who died so many times.
Do You like the candle-light,
Do You like the chimes?
Do You stop to wonder
Why men never see
How very closely Bethlehem
On the map the two cities of David are close; Bethlehem is only six miles southwest of Jerusalem. Even on the calendar they are near for this princely son of David, a fleeting thirty years or so.
There is, however, a more profound likeness between these two events. They are complementary moments manifesting correlative aspects of the Christ Event. For one thing, both show estrangement and rejection, our rejection of God. Jesus’ birth and death, set within and for our history, occurred for that very reason at the edge of society, “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12). “He came to his own home, and his people received him not” (John 1:11). Bethlehem is close to Calvary because humanity is far from God.
These two are also wondrously one in showing God’s acceptance of us, in our finitude ...1