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How Far Is It to Bethlehem? Thousands of Miles, or Inside You? - by Michele Suner

How Far Is It to Bethlehem? Thousands of Miles, or Inside You?

Michele Suner

Michele Suner of Florida, 1st Place Winner of the 2014 Christmas Essay Contest

I’m a book-loving 12th grader who’s been enrolled in Seton for all of my years of school. Thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien, I love languages (especially the ones of the ancient, rare, or invented variety) and I’m most probably going to pursue an advanced degree in linguistics and a career in speech therapy. I’m also doing a music minor alongside my linguistics degree. I am very grateful for all of the opportunities that my learning with Seton has given me!

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by the star?

Many of us are filled with the desire to go back in time to witness the miracle of Christ’s birth. Perhaps we would like to be one of the shepherds told the great news by an angel host. Or perhaps we would take the place of one of the Magi, bringing costly gifts and bowing in homage to the Savior of the world. Maybe we would even like to be one of the animals in the stable that kept Jesus warm.

We are reminded of this desire to be at Bethlehem every Christmas, when we see the crèche in churches or in our own homes. In the above lines, Frances Chesterton wonders, “How far is it to Bethlehem?” It seems that it is thousands of miles and thousands of years away.

Can we see the little Child?
Is He within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

We look around at Christmastime and despair at the rampant and unbridled materialism of the world. Everyone seems to have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas behind the shiny new toys and gadgets.

The crowded stores and advertisements on TV contribute to the alteration of the original concept of this holy Feast. Christmas runs the risk of being seen as that occasion once a year to spend precious money on ungrateful relatives.

It is almost impossible to escape the rush of worldly materialism around Christmastime. To us who know Christ, these are cheap, petty substitutes for the real Treasure. Despite all our best efforts, Bethlehem seems farther than ever.

Great kings have precious gifts
And we have nought;
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we have brought.

We may despair at what little we have to offer Jesus. We remember the Magi who came from far-off lands to give Christ gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Beyond that, they gave Jesus their homage and worship. We marvel at the splendors of the saints and wonder if we could ever be that holy. Surely, they had much, so much to offer God! Yet we often forget that they did not think so. Most of the saints knew themselves to be unworthy, too.

No mere human being, stained by Original Sin, is completely worthy of the majesty and awe of God. “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof,” we pray at every Mass.

But at every Mass, Christ deigns to come into our hearts, unworthy as we are. Such is the mercy of God! The best we can offer is our whole selves: our joys and sufferings, our “little smiles and little tears.” Jesus came to earth as a child, not as a conquering King with riches and glory. Perhaps it was to remind us that we must all have hearts as simple as those of children.

God in His mother’s arms
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their Heart’s Desire.

How far is it to Bethlehem? The answer is: not very far. For in the heart of each true child of God, Christ is born and lives within.

Excerpts of poetry from “How Far Is It to Bethlehem: The Plays and Poetry of Frances Chesterton,” compiled by Nancy Carpentier Brown.

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