O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.
In 1620 as Bishop of Winchester, Andrewes consecrated the church of St. Mary's, Southampton, during which an offertory collection was taken (£4/12/2). Andrewes used this to have a gothic chalice crafted for this little church. On the cover of the chalice was engraved a star, not any star but the star of Bethlehem. In his Christmas sermon of the same year he explained its significance: "In the old Ritual of the Church" this "wise men's star" was engraved "on the cover of the canister, wherein was the Sacrament of his body" "to show that now the star leads us thither, to His body there." In a Nativity sermon given five years earlier he had announced that this star of Bethlehem always hovers over where Jesus is, and therefore "the star does lead us to Bethlehem straight. Never stood still till it came thither, and there it stood directly over the place, as much to say as, 'Lo, there He is born.'" Yet Bethlehem is not only the place where the Lord Jesus was born but where He continues to be physically present, even to-day. So to-day Bethlehem is the altar and whenever the Eucharist is celebrated the star will burn brightly in the heavens, beckoning all to come and find the Lord Jesus. "Of which Bread the Church is this day the house, the true Bethlehem, and all the Bethlehem we have now left to come to for the Bread of life, - of that His life which we hope for in heaven." Venite! Like the magi we are beckoned to come. This Bethlehem can be visited by all the baptised, and those who come, receive the most precious gift on earth; "where that Bread is, there is Bethlehem for ever. ... There shall ever be this day a Bethlehem to go to - a house wherein there is bread, and this bread."
And what shall I say now, but according as St. John says, and the star, and the wise men say, 'Come.' And He, Whose the star is, and to Whom the wise men came, says, 'Come.' And let them who are disposed, 'Come.' And ... take of the 'Bread of Life, which came down from heaven' this day into Bethlehem, the house of bread.
As the star illuminates the way, there is never an excuse for not coming. "And will there be Bethlehem, and so near us, and shall we not go to it? Or, shall we go to it, to the House of Bread, this Bread, and come away without it? Shall we forsake our Guide leading us to a place so much for our benefit?" After all the star declares that it is Christ's "office to lead and to feed us" just as much as it is "our duty to be led and to be fed by Him." During our earthly pilgrimage coming to the altar is the nearest we can experience our dear Lord until we are called to "another venite come, unto Him in His heavenly kingdom, to which He grant we may come." There in heaven in never ending "joyful days" we shall gaze and gaze upon the Lamb of God. And what of Bethlehem itself? What significance does it bear? Of course it is "the place where David himself was born. And what place more meet for the Son of David to be born." Yet more importantly for Andrewes this is Bethlehem Ephratah, belonging to the tribe of Judah rather than that Bethlehem belonging to the tribe of Zebulon. In size it is a tiny "sorry, poor village, scarce worth an Apostrophe; ... and as little likelihood, that so great a State as the Guide of the whole world should come creeping out such a corner." Surely then it is not the place for a birth of a King; "that birth is sure too big for this place." No, says Andrewes, "As little as it is," Bethlehem Ephratah was meant to become immortalised as "no little Person shall come out of it. ... One, Whose only coming forth of it was able to make it not the least, [but] the greatest and most famous of all the dwellings of Jacob, of the whole land, no, of the whole world." Indeed Christ's birth in this little village resembles the small acorn which when it germinates grows into a huge oak or "a grain of mustard-seed, the very Bethlehem minima, 'the least of all seeds,' how large a plant! of how fair a spread! and that in a little time." The littleness of the village also reflects the virtues of "lowliness and humility", and so this is the "natural birth place" for Christ to be born as "humility is His place".
And O thou little Bethlehem, and O thou little Bethlemite, how do you both, both place and person, confound the haughtiness of many that yet would be called Christians, and even near Christ Himself. There is in both of you, if it were well taken to heart, enough to prick the swelling, and let out the apostumed matter of pride many of us, whose look, gesture, gait and swelling words of vanity are too big for Bethlehem.
Significantly too, Bethlehem Ephratah means "fruitfulness" as compared to Bethlehem in Zebulon, which denotes barrenness. "The next station is to the next virtue, and that is Ephratah, 'fruitfulness' ... for He has brought forth ... 'a lasting seed;' the fruit whereof to this day 'shakes like Libanus, and as the green grass covers all the earth.' ... [Thus] to humility to add fruitfulness."
Fruitfulness was a term constantly used by Andrewes as he strongly believed that Christians must express their faith outwardly, in acts of charity as well as mortification. Thus there was little good in simply talking about one's religion; it had to be lived out. He explains:
By this I mean plenteousness in all good works. Else it is not Ephratah; ... not right repentance unless it be Ephratah, 'bring forth fruits of repentance;' nor faith, 'without the work of faith;' nor love, 'without the labour of love;' nor any other virtue without her Ephratah. ... Fruitful then, ... not the fruit of the lips, a few good words 'but the precious fruit of the earth,' as St James calls it - lehem, 'good bread,' that fruit. Such fruit as St. Paul carried to the poor saints at Jerusalem, 'alms and offerings' ... Now if we could bring these together, ... straight we cease to be little; we begin to talk of merit and worth, and I [know] not what.
So our lives must follow Bethlehem Ephratah.
As already intimated those who come to the present day Bethlehem receive the living Bread. Very significantly this Bread is given in the house of bread and in plenteousness as "Beth is a house, lehem bread, and Ephratah is plenty. ... Bethlehem then sure a fit place for ... [Him] to be born in." Thus there is "no more proper [place] for Him Who is the living Bread that came down from heaven,' to give life to the world. ... His house is the house of bread, inasmuch as He Himself is Bread; that in the house or out of it, - wheresoever He is, there is Bethlehem." Andrewes in elaborating further on Christ as the Bread of Life and Bethlehem as the House of Bread, compares Christ's nourishing of His people with that of Moses and the provisions he made for the Israelites in Egypt and in their wanderings in the desert.
You may see all this represented in the shadows of the Old Testament. ...
Moses, when he came to lead the people, found them ... 'scattered over all the land of Egypt, to seek stubble for brick,' to build a city that sought the ruin of them all. Our case right the very pattern of it; when our Guide finds us wandering in vanity, picking up straws, things that will not profit us; 'seeking death in the error of our life,' till we be so happy as to light into His guiding.
Secondly, Moses was not only 'a guide for the way;' but also when enemies came forth against them, 'a captain for the war.' Christ was so too, and far beyond Moses. For He made us way with laying down of His life. So did neither Moses nor Joshua. Would die for it, but He would open us a passage to the place He undertook to bring us to. Was Dux, a Guide, in His life; Dux, a Captain, in His death. Thirdly, Moses when they fainted by the way obtained in their hunger manna 'from Heaven,' and in their thirst 'water out of the rock for them.' Christ is Himself the 'true Manna;' Christ, the spiritual Rock. Whom He leads He feeds; carries Bethlehem about Him. Yet for Andrewes, Bethlehem was never truly named until the day of Christ's birth. And in this respect it may well be said, Bethlehem was never Bethlehem right, had never the name truly till this day this birth, this Bread was born and brought forth there. Before it was the house of bread, but of the bread that perishes; but [now] of the 'Bread that endures to everlasting life.' Thus the real purpose of Bethlehem was the ordaining of the Sacrament "to re-establish 'our hearts with grace,' and to repair the decays of our spiritual strength; even 'His own flesh, the Bread of life,' and 'His own blood, the Cup of salvation.' Bread made of Himself, the true Granum frumenti. 'Wine made of Himself,' 'the true Vine.'
For the sake of what Bethlehem signifies, Andrewes pleaded that we give due honour to it as He Who comes out of it will bring us to eternity.
For little Bethlehem's sake ... love the virtue that is like it, and for the virtue's sake to honour it. Honour it, there is a star over it, there is a Saviour in it. Honour it for That which comes out of it, for the fruit it yields. More good comes forth out of that poor town, says the prophet, ... than from all the great and glorious cities in the world. ... Bethlehem ... 'gives us our introduction to paradise.' I am sure that Andrewes would like us to end this meditation with these lines from the hymn quoted at the beginning as a prayer, not only now but every day. O holy Child of Bethlehem, Cast out our sins, and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.