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On Christmas And The Urban – Rural Divide

From Luke Greer, Director of Partnership

For me, part of the Christmas season means spending time reading the Bible’s nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. Although I’ve read them many times before, something “new” often captures my attention. This year when I read the angels’ declaration to the shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), I realized I hadn’t ever really noticed what’s always been there: the city of David.  The angels weren’t referring to the great city of Jerusalem, but instead to the quiet town of Bethlehem.

This is strange! After all, King David himself called Jerusalem the “city of David” (2 Sam 5:9), not Bethlehem. Over and over again in the Old Testament, it is Jerusalem that receives the title “city of David.” Bethlehem was a sleepy suburb about six miles to the south.

The story of God’s coming into the world is chock-full surprises:

  • Jesus came as an infant, born in obscurity, and to a common family.
  • Bethlehem is yet another example of God choosing little things to alter the course of human history.
  • God selects David’s place of birth rather than David’s seat of government to fulfill the prophecy of the Messiah as hailing from the “city of David.”

Recently, a staff writer for The Atlantic observed that “the urban-rural divide is the single most overlooked fracture in American religion, and particularly in the American church.” Perhaps she’s right. Voting maps would certainly confirm her suspicion.

But I also see something else. I see people, churches, communities spread across countryside, towns, suburbs, and cities who are not divided but united in the important work of planting new churches in places like Jerusalem. This is an echo of Jesus’ ministry: he was born in Bethlehem, yet he resolutely set his course for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). In Jesus’ story, both Bethlehem and Jerusalem are the “city of David,” and they both play critical roles in Jesus’ work. Today, churches in both suburbs and cities are part of the same Christian lineage, each proclaiming Jesus’ work in important ways.

Jesus came from an unexpected place and in an unexpected way.  Our hope is that the work Orchard Group does will unexpectedly narrow the gap between otherwise divided places so that all can hear the good tidings of great joy about Jesus Christ, the one who was born in a town and who died in a city on behalf of all people everywhere!