The function of language is to reflect reality. Sometimes language changes in order to reflect changing realities.
In England, in 1247, a new hospital was named St. Mary of Bethlehem. It was a good name for a hospital – warm, comforting, peaceful. However, two centuries later, it became a hospital for the mentally ill, an insane asylum, as such institutions used to be called. Instead of being a place of quietness and hope, it became a place of disorder, confusion and anxiety. With the passage of time, names are often shortened, and the hospital came to be called simply “Bethlehem.” Now, if you say “Bethlehem” as the English do, it becomes almost a two-syllable word: “Beth-lem.” Gradually it came to be called not “Beth-lem” but “Bedlam.” This reference to the old hospital is the actual derivation of the word “bedlam” as it is used today. Synonyms include mayhem, chaos, pandemonium, confusion, disorder, disarray and turmoil.
It is hardly necessary to say that there is a good deal of bedlam in our world. There may be a good bit of it in our own personal life around Christmas-time. It is ironic how fragmented and frustrated we can become in our preparations to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. What is creating the discord in your life right now? Is it only the hustle and bustle of Christmas? Or is it something else? What is the source of whatever “bedlam” you are experiencing? The centuries-old English hospital went from “Bethlehem” to “Bedlam,” but most of us need to get from bedlam to Bethlehem and all that Bethlehem signifies.
We all know what “Bethlehem” means. It means “house of bread.” Our lives today and everyday need the nourishment of Bethlehem. Bethlehem gave the world the “Bread of Life,” “Prince of Peace” and “Light of the World.” We need to once again discover this gift.
What does it mean, spiritually, to go to Bethlehem? It means to hear the heavenly announcement that because of a humble and apparently ordinary birth, a new possibility for peace has been opened up for the world. There was a multitude of heavenly beings with the angel, and they praised God saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” To go to Bethlehem is to know that at the center of all things is the God of peace. It is to know that God has the last word and that it is a word of peace. Beyond all our bedlam – wars, terror and international insecurity, interpersonal conflict and disharmony in our souls – it is God’s peace that we need.
What is the secret of peaceful people? It is not that there is no bedlam in their lives. The same sorts of things tend to happen to all of us. We all live with a mixture of hopes and fears. Perhaps inner peace comes from the conviction that, whatever happens in the meantime, God’s peace has the last word. In the little town of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace has been born in Whom our highest hopes are fulfilled and our deepest fears relieved.
There is no need to stay in bedlam – it’s time to move on to Bethlehem!
Reflection shared by Rev. George Hazler, Guest House Chaplain