Do a Google search of the word “bedlam” and you’ll easily find its etymological connection to Christmas and Bethlehem. The connect is a hospital for the insane in the 14th and 15th centuries in South London by the name of Saint Mary Bethlem(hem) Royal Hospital. Evidently medieval slang shortened the pronunciation to “bedlam” which aptly described the almost constant uproar and chaos inside the cruel confinement. We’re told that for a time the hospital was a rather popular tourist attraction where people could pay an admission fee to come and heckle the inmates and thus get some sort of pleasure. Thus “bedlam” became a word that describes any noisy, chaotic and just crazy scene.
I strongly dislike any situation that is chaotic, but it strikes me that every Christmas is just that! Certainly the first Christmas was. Way too many families [whole families] jammed into tiny Bethlehem to register for taxes and most of them not permanent residents. No, the whole world had not come to that tiny hamlet, only part of it, but you would never know it from trying to maneuver its crowded tiny streets and sheep path roads. I don't want to burst any long-held bubbles, but the line in the beloved carol, “How still we see thee lie” is anything but realistic as this tiny place never got a chance to sleep for days or perhaps weeks on end.
Christmas is still a season of “bedlam.” It’s marked with more violence, suicide, anxiety and emotional strain than any other season of the year. We hold classes and clinics on how to get through the season. Many pass it with feelings of loneliness, meaninglessness and mindless activities. The mad commercial race starts before Thanksgiving Day and is non-stop in our stores to see who can buy their way into massive debt the quickest! [Oh, excuse me, I actually meant to say, who will do their patriotic duty and stimulate our national economy the most!]. Stores are crowded, streets and roads are congested, school, church and personal calendars are packed with activities. It can indeed be a madhouse [“bedlam”], pure lunacy! And when it’s all over we wonder why it feels so pointless and we feel so empty.
When I long for a nice quiet Christmas like so many of those seen only on Christmas cards, I take a deep breath and remember that Christmas has never been nice and quiet--never! The gloria sung in the highest that first Christmas was sung over the din of the uproar coming from an over-crowded Bethlehem.
Madness and sheer lunacy was the very reason our Savior came to this sinful and broken world in the first place. Everything and everyone was abysmally off pitch and out of kilter that Christmas night in Bethlehem save the angels, because the whole world was a giant train wreck where insanity reigned. [Rom. 1] But that angelic song they brought and the message they spoke had a real, genuine and orderly point to it. It wasn't lunacy; rather, it made real sense! God in the flesh had come to join us in our madness and “bedlam” in order to put us back into a harmonious relationship with him again through Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. That tiny babe in the feeding trough right there in the middle of all Bethlehem's “bedlam” was the Prince of Peace.
“And the Eternal Word became human flesh and lived for a while in our tent, and we saw for ourselves His glory. Glory full of grace and full of truth... For unto you is born today in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Jo. 1:14, Lk. 2:11