Have you ever looked under the Christmas tree to inspect still-wrapped gifts for size and shape and mass and volume? As a child, I used to think, “the bigger — the better.” But over the years, I’ve discovered the reality that “big things come in small packages.” In fact, great things come in small packages. This couldn’t be more true as we think about the birthplace of our great King, Jesus, born as a tiny baby.
With God’s Spirit guiding him, the prophet Micah foretold,
“Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.” Micah 5:2
God’s majesty and reputation are not diminished or compromised by introducing Jesus into the world through such seemingly small and insignificant circumstances. In fact, it is in this tiny, forgotten village that we see more clearly God’s beautiful character of love and peace for us. Unlike humanity, God is never tempted to be a showy braggart. Even in the simple birthplace of the eternal King Jesus, God allowed Himself to be approachable by all, especially the lowly and small.
The shepherds, the epitome of ordinary and insignificant, were tending their sheep in the Judean hill country when they were invited to Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus in the simple feeding trough. These simple shepherds, who were simply doing their work, were the first to hear the good news. Immediately, they worshiped God for all they had seen and heard. In the 2nd Century ad, Origen frequently resided in Palestine and wrote from his personal experience, “In Bethlehem you are shown the cave where he was born, and within the cave the manger where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Before the birthplace of Jesus became a shrine for the masses, it was just a simple place.
Why did Jesus come to Bethlehem? What’s the significance? Why there of all places? Do you think Joseph and Mary ever asked, “Why there? Why now?” Yet, in their simple obedience to go to Bethlehem for the census when it was most inconvenient, they were crucial to fulfilling God’s plan for His incarnation. Why Bethlehem?
Remember that Bethlehem was a place of sorrow. Historically, it’s where the Jewish Patriarch, Jacob, buried his wife, Rachel. As Rachel died, the Bible says, she called her son’s name, Ben-oni: “Son of my Sorrow.” (Genesis 35:18-19) Centuries later, Bethlehem was also a place of sorrow because King Herod, jealous of the one born “King of the Jews,” gave orders to massacre all the male children who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16-18). In this very same place, Jesus, called the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), was born. He would carry our sorrows, our suffering in His body to be pierced because of our sin. But one day, because of Him, we will go to another place where sorrow will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).
Recall, also, that Bethlehem was also a place of selection – it was the birthplace and hometown of David, the shepherd whom God chose became king of Israel. God made covenant promises to David assuring him that He would establish his royal line and kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:11-16, 28-29). Micah foretold of Bethlehem, “One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me.”
Bethlehem is most significant because it is the birthplace of our salvation. According to God’s plan (Micah 5:2), Israel’s future ruler would not come from majestic Jerusalem but from insignificant Bethlehem. He would be the Shepherd King who will bring peace and blessing to all peoples (Isaiah 2:2-4; 60:1-5). This “ruler over Israel” is also divine since He had come “from antiquity” (literally days of immeasurable time). The New Testament identifies this shepherd leader as the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:1,3-6), who would be the Savior of the world.
Bethlehem reminds us that God often chooses to bring something great and extra-ordinary out of something so small and ordinary. For the many times when I feel so small, so lonely, so insignificant, and so ordinary, Bethlehem reminds me that God uses the simple and the commonplace to reveal His breathtaking glory. Size never threatens or limits God’s true greatness. The insignificance of Bethlehem is God’s birthplace for our significance in Christ.
This Christmas, I encourage you to enjoy all the small things the season brings: cookies in the oven, moments of quietness, selflessly serving, time spent in prayer, a reading of the Christmas story, exchanging presents, and so much more.
Through simple acts of seemingly insignificant obedience, like Joseph and Mary, you and I can bring Christ into the world. And we encounter many unsuspecting small things and small moments, I pray you will embrace them as wonderful opportunities to worship the eternal King, Jesus Christ – the One born in the little town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ