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."
The journey begins with a question.
The story begins with God's action.
The greatest single verse of the New Testament which summarizes the real meaning
of Christmas is John 1: 14.
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?
They had assumed that Samuel was Saul's agent for destruction and death.
They wanted a king!
Now they have a king.
Why aren't they happy?
Why is this city caught in a grip of terror?
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."
That is what Christmas really means, "Thou art with me."
That is the affirmation from Bethlehem.
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.
Your father, Jesse, didn't see the potential of your life.
Your older brothers did not see the possibilities within you.
They probably regard you as a nuisance and a pest. "
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.
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.
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 It is in the name Christ that we pray,
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White