“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
(Micah 5:2, NIV)
Ephrata, my hometown, lies peacefully in central Washington State. In 1892 as the Great Northern Railroad completed its line from Seattle to Minneapolis, someone likened the area around the train stop to Bethlehem Ephratah. The name stuck.
My memories of Ephrata bring happiness. As a boy I wandered along springs in the sagebrush valleys. For fun we targeted snowballs at conductors as trains roared by shaking the earth. In Ephrata I trusted Jesus Christ, was baptized, and began to mature. In short intervals I’ve twice pastored my home church, people who in many ways remain family. My Christmases were there. I loved this safe, healthy, peaceful town.
Ephratah. Nearly four thousand years ago the patriarch Jacob buried his beloved wife Rachel near “Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem” (Genesis 35:19). A thousand years later, there Boaz married Ruth (grandparents of King David), such that the family of David was described as “Ephrathites” (Ruth 1:2). The clan of Ephrathites settled around Bethlehem yet spread over a larger area called Ephratah stretching from north of Jerusalem to south of Bethlehem. Yet biblically Ephratah is often simply denoted Bethlehem, Israel’s royal village.
With arid rolling hills, valleys and grass for pasture, and a few trees for shade, Bethlehem and my hometown are strikingly similar. But the feeling in Palestine, now as then, remains far more ominous than in my Ephrata. Then, Herod’s slave-made fortress stood two miles from Bethlehem, and Herod’s soldiers were always near. Today, a high wall and checkpoints separate Palestinian Bethlehem from Israeli Jerusalem. The Church of the Nativity is surrounded by minarets and security forces. Bethlehem Ephratah is not safe and peaceful. Not when Jesus was born, and not today.
Most of us strive to protect our own well-being and that of those we love—evidenced perhaps most of all at Christmas. Yet the babe in Bethlehem was born in the midst of peril. To be sure, this one whose origins are from old will rule over Israel. The Son will establish His peaceful kingdom. Yet as we await His return our Lord calls us to live our lives as He—vulnerable and trusting in a troubled, dangerous world. We are to let go, not always play it safe, and rest secure in Him.