Have you ever looked under the Christmas tree to inspect still-wrapped gifts for size and shape and weight? As a child, I used to think, “the bigger, the better.” But over the years, I’ve discovered the wonderful reality that big things come in small packages. In fact, the greatest things come in small packages. This couldn’t be truer as we celebrate the birth of our great King 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
It is in this small, ordinary village that we see God’s love and provision for us. Notice how God’s majesty and reputation are not diminished or compromised at all by introducing Jesus into the world through such a seemingly small place and inconvenient circumstances. Unlike humanity, God is never tempted to be a show off. Even in the simple birthplace of the eternal King Jesus, God has allowed Himself to be approachable by all, especially the ordinary and small.
The shepherds, the epitomy of ordinary and insignificant, were tending their sheep in the Judean hill country when they were personally invited to Bethlehem with an extraordinary invitation. Heaven’s angels told them they could find the baby Jesus in the simple feeding trough. 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 grotto of Jesus became a shrine, it was just an ordinary cave.
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 trust the Lord and go to Bethlehem for the census, they became an important part of fulfilling God’s plan for His incarnation. Why Bethlehem?
First of all, 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, in this very same place, another, called the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), was born. He would carry our sorrows on the cross and our suffering in His body to be crucified because of our sin. 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). For such a small village, Bethlehem was a place of unusual sorrow, but one day, because of Jesus, we will go to another place where sorrow will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).
Recall 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). Joseph was of the royal line and family house of David. The decree of Caesar Augustus to register all those in the Roman empire brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at exactly the right time in order that the Messiah might be born there in fulfillment of prophecy of Micah. From a human viewpoint, Augustus was demonstrating his supremacy over the Greco-Roman world. But from God’s perspective, this Gentile emperor was merely a servant to bring about His perfect plan to save the world – starting in the remote village of Israel.
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; Isaiah 9:6-7). 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 who would be the Savior of the world (Matthew 2:1, 3-6).
Christmas reminds us that God often chooses to bring something great and extra-ordinary out of something small and ordinary. For the times when I feel so small, so insignificant, so ordinary, Bethlehem reminds me that God uses the simple and the commonplace to reveal His breathtaking glory. Size never threatens God’s true greatness – it uncovers His character. The best things come in small packages. The insignificance of Bethlehem is God’s birthplace for our significance in Christ.
This Christmas Eve, I encourage you to enjoy all the small things the season brings: cookies in the oven, moments of quietness, time spent in prayer, a reading of the Christmas story, exchanging presents, and so much more. Like Joseph and Mary, simple acts of seemingly insignificant obedience can be used by God bring Christ into your world.
And as you 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.