Can you imagine what the lead story of the Bethlehem nightly news might have looked like the morning after Jesus was born? Something like: Bethlehem’s streets and Inns filled to capacity as hundreds arrive as a result of Caesar’s decree. Interviews from disgruntled travelers and sold out shopkeepers follow the headline news. Perhaps somewhere as a byline they mention the rantings of shepherds who claim to see a vision from another world. No one would have led with the birth of a peasant’s baby in a manger, no one would have even cared. The day’s story of substance was not to be found in Herod’s palace, nor anywhere in Jerusalem for that matter.
Soundbites have always commanded the attention of the masses. And why not. The hot item of the day needed not to be broadcast on a cable news network, people have always been drawn to the short and flamboyant highlight in lieu of the deeper and more significant assessment of the day’s happenings. Soundbites sell, soundbites attract, soundbites shape the hearts of many regardless of their accuracy or factuality. From the serpent misquoting scripture in the garden of Eden to the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel, short bursts of limited information caused trouble then as now.
In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news that man had flown! Soundbites still cause the world to miss the really big news!
Matthew’s gospel shares, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they have come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”
Notice that “something out of the ordinary” was what first drew them to the Savior? It often works that way. Something gets our attention. Something out of the ordinary happens in our lives. Perhaps something unusual happens, perhaps something tragic or eye-opening takes place. Something occurs and we are aware more than ever of our circumstances. But it doesn’t stop there. Let’s notice the next step for this band of searchers. They were then directed to the “scriptures” as they stopped in Jerusalem for directions. Often, God gets our attention through a series of events or even tragedies. Then when confronted by the scriptures we begin to find some true direction and insight to what life is all about. The sign led them to the scriptures and the scriptures would lead them to Bethlehem.
Herod’s palace provided speculation and headlines to amuse and entertain. But the wise men weren’t after a soundbite, they were after a King! Allow me to pause and interject that many get derailed at this point and go no further. Many get close to Jesus this time of year but never truly get to know the baby from Bethlehem. Going only as far as Jerusalem, when Bethlehem and the Savior are just a short distance away. Soundbites never satisfy, substance always does!
As leadership mentor Michael Hyatt says, “You often get what you’re looking for!” If you’re only interested headlines and soundbites that tweet well, well, that’s all you’ll ever get. Soundbites seem to rule the day we live in; however there is substance to be found and truth to be discovered. Many still miss the big news of that Bethlehem night. Just like they couldn’t afford to miss the baby in the manger then, you can’t afford to miss Him now. Merry Christmas!
Midwest Director of Ministry for the Family Research Council in Washington