“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 ESV)
“That’s what Christmas is all about” is a line we hear not just from Linus’ recitation of Luke chapter 2 in A Charlie Brown Christmas but in many movies, books, sermons, cards, and messages about Christmas. Christmas is about many things. Most especially, Christmas is about God sending his Son into the world to redeem the world, according to his promises.
Every year we come to Christmas time and try to glean truths about the miracle that is Christ’s arrival – the ancient prophecies, the virgin birth, the Incarnation, and so on. The fact that there are so many things we can dwell on concerning Christmas ought to excite us! We can hear a thousand sermons on a thousand aspects of Christmas and hardly scratch the surface.
This Sunday, we’ll look at one of the aspects of what “Christmas is all about:” namely, that God’s magnificent plan of redemption begins in seemingly insignificant ways. This concept will become clear as we consider the town of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.
Most of us are likely familiar with the basics of the story: Joseph and the virgin Mary came to the town of Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth. The angels appeared to the shepherds who were then led to Bethlehem to see and worship the newborn baby. A couple of months later, the wise men came to a house in Bethlehem to worship Jesus. Aside from his birth, not much more is said about Bethlehem in relation to Jesus. He is known as the man from Nazareth; he does much ministry in other towns around Galilee; his passion takes place in Jerusalem. What is the significance of Bethlehem?
Bethlehem was a small shepherd town in Ephratha, which was a clan of the tribe of Judah. The clan was so small that it was left out of parts of scripture listing tribes of Judah. The prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, called it “too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Yet, Micah says, from this little, seemingly insignificant town, a ruler will come to Israel.
God brought this prophecy to fulfillment with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. He is the one that Micah says whose “coming forth is from old.” He is the one that “will stand and shepherd his flock.” He is the one that shall “be their peace.” This Messiah, this Ruler-Shepherd of Israel, who will ultimately put an end to the turmoil of his people and deliver them from their enemy, will begin his earthly life in Bethlehem.
God didn’t choose Bethlehem arbitrarily. He ordained that this would be the town that would give Israel King David and give the world Jesus Christ. He demonstrates to us that we don’t need to look for our peace and hope in the major cities, the celebrities, or in places of renown. God can accomplish his earth-shattering work through places – and people – of ordinary status. May the Little Town of Bethlehem remind us that our great God is not impressed with places of high status, but what he does with the ordinary is always impressive.