“The Complacent Blacksmith in Bethlehem” (Gathered the hay- saw the sight- did not follow) [Pope: indifference to God brings indifference to evil] 12-24 11 PM
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ (Zeph. 1:12)
Ad she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Lk. 2:7)
Bethlehem was just an ordinary small, hidden town. Nothing really wild happens here either good or bad. I like it that way. I keep to myself, and other people keep to themselves.
I like things to be nice, even, no large ups or downs- just steady state- steady-eddie. I was the blacksmith back then- the farrier. I had a pretty slow business. I had grown up in Bethlehem, my father had been a blacksmith, and I had hopes that my little baby son would grow up to be one too. Bethlehem was just a sleepy town of a few hundred people. We didn’t have a river going by, and no gold or silver or resources to make us a big city. Nothing much will ever come of this place.
Oh I had heard that Bethlehem was once the city where David was born. But that had been a thousand years ago. Nothing much happens here.
But then a few years ago… more things happened than I want to admit.
First, the emperor made a declaration that everybody should go back to their ancestral home for census and taxing purposes. Of course, everyone wants to claim royalty in their veins, so everyone wanted to come back to Bethlehem- the royal city of David. So the city started swelling, and swelling and swelling until I thought it was going to burst out into the desert.
People wanted to leave their horses at the inn, and leave their horses with me. I hated this idea. I didn’t mind the extra money- but it meant extra work. There were extra horse shoes to shod, and extra hay to be found. I even had to find an extra cave or two to house the animals. I wish that Roman emperor had said something else and everyone would have just left us alone. I don’t mind an honest day’s work, but I really don’t like working overtime. That is why I picked a small town and not a big city for my blacksmith work.
There were so many people that the inns filled up, we were running out of food and water. I had to get some extra mangers and extra water troughs ready for the animals. Some people asked me where the local synagogue was and what time was the service. I told them where the synagogue was- we were a small town, after all. But I did not know what time they met. I hadn’t been to worship since I was a young boy. My parents believed, but I didn’t think it would do me any good. After all, God really doesn’t do anything around here good or bad. I believed then that people who get all excited about God do things that make me feel uncomfortable. They give more of their hard-earned cash to strangers. They take precious time and energy to help those who are in need.
Right in the middle of everything going on, some weird things started happening. The inn was so crowded, that the innkeeper asked me if I would mind if a lady about to have a baby stayed in one of my stables. I told him it was no problem, but I didn’t want any trouble. I was pretty uncomfortable- a baby born in my stable. I actually went there and met them just to make sure they weren’t doing anything mean in my stable to the animals. I also remember they had a donkey, so I charged them for the donkey to stay. After all, people were paying me to keep their horses there- this young couple paid me nothing for sleeping there. I wanted to charge them- but looking back I’m glad I didn’t. I was really a little cold to them. My wife and I had a baby of our own, and I was very very busy. Maybe I should have been more sympathetic. I should have brought them my best blankets and some food and water. But I really wish they had just left me alone.
Later some shepherds came to me asking if a baby was born and put in a manger. They said some really crazy stuff like an angel came to them. You know those shepherds- sometimes I think they’ve been outside a little too long! But after looking at them with skeptical eyes, I finally put two and two together and told them if they really wanted to know- there was a new baby in one of my stable-caves that the innkeeper was using to house the extra horses and animals. I pointed out the place, but was too busy to take them there. They were trying to tell me something about that the baby was the messiah. But you know, I try not to get too involved in such things. The shepherds seemed a little bit crazy talking about angels and messiah and everything. After all, this is Bethlehem- a small nowhere place, and nothing much ever happens here.
The father of that baby did some work for me. His name was Joseph and his son was Jesus. He helped fashion some wooden molds for some tools and some handles for my hammers. He did pretty good work, and the family eventually built a little house on the eastern side of town. I was thinking that maybe their child and mine might play together one day- there weren’t that many children in our small town. I used to think about that baby and the shepherds story. But when they stuck around and the father just was an ordinary guy- a carpenter- I just put all that behind me. Nothing special happens here, and even if it did, I didn’t want to be a part of it.
One day some people came from the east looking for a baby who had been born about the same time the baby born in a cave was born. You know, we only have a few hundred people so there were only a few babies. My wife and I had a baby, but I knew no people from the east were looking for our baby. If they were, I really didn’t want them to anyway. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I did direct them to the house where Joseph and his family were staying. Turns out that was the wrong thing to do. I knew when those magi showed up it would bring nothing but trouble!
It wasn’t long after that when Herod’s soldiers came looking for any child under two years old. They were going to kill the children because Herod was in a fit of jealousy over even the crazy mention of a messiah king being born! Can you imagine? It is one thing for a terrorist or deranged person to kill a child. But it is another when that terrorist or deranged person is in charge of your government. Can you imagine paying taxes to someone who wishes to kill your baby? I wish they had just left us alone. I heard that Joseph and his family had left town. I told the soldiers that they were the ones they were looking for, but they didn’t listen. Herod said to kill every child under two. I ran home and tried to hide him, and tried to bar the door, but it was useless. They broke the door down, knocked me aside, ripped my Aaron from my wife’s arms, and murdered him. The grief was more than I and my wife could bear. We were angry with each other, and we basically retreated. I retreated into my work, she retreated into making clothes from the wool of the shepherds. We both stopped being so uncaring toward God. In fact, we turned to Him for help and solace. I started going to worship. I started praying more. In six years we had three more children. But we will never forget Aaron, and the tragedy that took him from us. But I changed- and I changed for the better. I was more caring, more loving, more sympathetic.
As time went on, I heard about this baby now grown named Jesus. I heard of his teaching. I even got to see him twice when he came to nearby Jericho. I heard him speak words of kindness about the Good Samaritan on the way to Jericho. I could relate for that road was scary. I saw him treat Zaccheus, the tax collector, with kindness. I started thinking about this Jesus son of Joseph. This one to whom I refused to help bring blankets food or water. I keep telling myself I was too busy, but really I did what I wanted to do. I was too uncaring. I was too focused on me to focus on this baby, the poor, the needy, or on God. But having my own baby ripped from me, helped me to care more for other babies and for the helpless. I was never the same. I followed Jesus son of Joseph. I began to leave my selfish uncaring and disinterest behind and I became a better, more lovable and more loving person. I had more peace and more strength than ever.
Let me challenge you. Do not be like I was- uncaring toward God and neighbor. I was caught up in my busy-ness and my family’s busy-ness- which really was just another name for selfishness. Do not be like me- who wanted to shut out good in order to be left alone. Do not be like me who was deaf and blind to the greatest news ever. Do not be like me, uncaring toward the babe born in the stable-cave. Rather, give yourself to Him. Find in Him your peace and your strength. God rescued me from myself and my past sin. He can rescue you as well.