O Little Town of Bethlehem (an advent meditation)

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 tonight

The song O Little Town of Bethlehem speaks to the great thing that came out of seeming insignificance. This is the very thing that happened with the birth of Jesus. When God sent his Son into the world to be our Savior-King, he chose insignificance.

Yes, for Jesus to be a descendant of David, he had to be born to one of David’s relatives. We get this in both his birth mother, Mary (the genealogy in Luke), and through his adoptive father, Joseph (the genealogy in Matthew). But, to be a descendant of David didn’t guarantee prosperity or notoriety. Mary was a young virgin, likely from a poor family. Joseph was a common tradesman, probably young in his craft and not well off.

When a census was declared, the couple, with Mary nine-months pregnant, headed back to their ancestral city. Bethlehem had the notoriety of being the town of King David’s birth, but not much else.

The census flooded the small town with travelers. Joseph and Mary were too late to find a room at the local inn, and didn’t seem to know anyone in town to stay with. So, they ended up with cattle where God the Son was born into the world. If not for a chorus of angels sent to display God’s glory to a group of shepherds, the birth would have largely gone unnoticed.

Everything seemed so insignificant. Yet through this, God fulfilled a promise given by the prophet Micah centuries before: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

God has a way of working through what the world deems as insignificant. Jesus was called the carpenter’s son. The twelve, most were poorly educated fishermen. David was a shepherd boy, the youngest of his warrior brothers. Yet in the small things, God did great things.

So, Christmas reminds us that smallness and insignificance is no hindrance to the work of God. As Paul reminded the church at Corinth:

For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth…. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26, 28-29)

So, let’s not boast in our strength, wisdom, and might this Christmas season. Instead, let us celebrate the God who does great and mighty things through what seems insignificant.

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