O Little Town of Bethlehem

Micah 5:2-5a "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace. 

Sennacherib, the king of Assyria was coming. He would lay siege on Jerusalem and attack the other cities in Judah. He made Judah’s king, Hezekiah, pay a large tribute to him. He then humiliated Hezekiah by striking him on the cheek with a rod. 

Micah prophesied this in chapter 5 verse 1:“Marshal your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.” We often skip over this verse in order to get to the second verse: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” However, it is important to know why the Savior was going to come from Bethlehem. 

The nation of Judah was being humbled and humiliated by the Lord through Sennacherib because of their sinful pride and wayward ways. Yet Micah envisioned the day when God would raise up a descendant of David who would rule in glory and majesty … but first He would come in humility and from obscurity. 

Little things that the Israelites did led to much bigger things. They didn’t follow God’s command to clear all the heathen peoples out of the land of Canaan. Just a little thing, right? But that led to believing Israelites marrying unbelieving Canaanite spouses. Those spouses brought their heathen household gods into their new homes. Not such a big deal, right? But that eventually led to split family worship between the true God of Israel and the false gods of all the various Canaanite peoples. That led to forsaking the true God and adulterating themselves fully with false gods. Part of their worship was having sex with the temple prostitutes of Baal and Asherah or even sacrificing their children on the altar of Molech.

Because of the Israelites’ idolatries, adulteries, and abominations, God humbled them. Their little sins that tugged at them away from God led to much bigger sins (in our eyes) that removed them completely from God. They refused to humble themselves with repentance, confession and renewal. So, in order to save His people, God humbled them. In His infinite wisdom, God used a mighty heathen king like Sennacherib to bring His people to repentance for their little sins that were leading to much bigger sins. 

The same things happen in our lives. Have you noticed how little things that we don’t think are so bad or such a big deal always seem to create much larger problems for us in life?

The harsh word that causes our teenager not to want to be around us? 

The cheating on one exam or the bad decisions one weekend evening that causes our teacher or our parents not to trust us? 

The images on the internet that ruin our entire perception of healthy sex-life with our spouse? 

The words typed in a fit of emotion on social media that cannot be taken back? 

Not speaking with a parent, child or sibling after an incident that leads to not speaking for years? 

Not correcting our children when they are younger that leads to hellions when they are older? 

Overextending ourselves on our credit cards and losing our home?

Little projects left undone at work that causes us to lose our job?

Missing worship one time just because we don’t feel like going that leads to our habitual absence in church? 

The innocent holding of hands on one date that leads to a passionate kiss on the next that leads to an evening in the bedroom on the next that results in a newborn child born out of wedlock 9 months later? 

Little things. All of them. But when we don’t deal with them in humility and repentance right away, they lead to much bigger problems. When we don’t confess our sins immediately, but instead hold onto them and make them part of our daily living, we find them pulling us farther and farther away from God later on.

God desires for us to humble ourselves. He wants us to approach Him in humility. But so often we refuse. Probably the biggest reason is because of pride. Pride is a terrible master. Pride turns misunderstandings into arguments and arguments into fights. Pride causes us to hold onto grudges as power over others, to withhold forgiveness from those we consider somehow lesser than us, and to refuse to humble ourselves before He who is greater than us. Pride seduces us into thinking that we are innocent and have it all together. Here’s what St. Paul learned the hard way: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

When we don’t humble ourselves on our own, God, in His infinite wisdom, may decide to humble us for our own good. 

God may choose to use big actions like foreign invaders and terrorists to humble us as a nation. Or He may use little things like a blood clot or the loss of memories to humble us as individuals. The loss of trust, the loss of our marriage, the loss of our home, the loss of our job, the loss of our health … or the addition of an unwanted pregnancy, the addition of stress in the home, the addition of anxiety in our lives are brought on by ourselves but allowed by God in order to humble us.

The little things add up to pull us away from God. However, God also uses little things in order to bring Himself to us. 

God always has a plan … and He always works the plan. God used the humble little town of Bethlehem to bring forth glorious salvation. 

Consider this: Sennacherib thought he was doing the right thing for Assyria by carrying the Israelites into captivity but leaving a remnant in Bethlehem. But God was using this heathen ruler to fulfill His plans for the little town of Bethlehem as Micah foretold (5:2). Caesar Augustus thought he was doing the right thing for Rome by having a census of his entire empire (Luke 2:1). But God was using this unbelieving Caesar to move Joseph and Mary to the little town of Bethlehem so Micah’s prophecy could be fulfilled. 

In our Gospel lesson, St. John writes about how many people in Jesus’ day were confused. They knew the prophecy that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. But they also “knew” that Jesus was from Nazareth. The Savior was God’s Son. But they knew Jesus to be the son of Mary. Many of them just could not reconcile this paradox. That’s why St. John records these words: “Some of the people said, ‘Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived’ Thus the people were divided because of Jesus” (John 7:42-43).

It seems that those who knew Jesus did not understand this paradox. The One sleeping through a storm … had the power to still the storm. The One who could raise the dead … wept when His friend, Lazarus, died. The One who had no beauty of majesty to attract people to Him … had mobs of diseased and crippled and hurting people attracted to Him. 

The people loved the prophecies about the coming Messiah’s power and glory. But they were puzzled by other prophecies – like in Micah 5 – that spoke of the Messiah’s humility. 

We refer to God’s Son coming into our world and taking on human flesh as part of His “humiliation.” Since God knew that we would often refuse to humble ourselves before Him, He sent His Son to be humbled for our sakes. So God’s Son kept His divine nature hidden within His human flesh, so that He was found in appearance as just a man and nothing more (Philippians 2:8). Jesus looked like just any other guy. He wept and hurt and hungered and became worn out like any other man.

God’s Son came into our world and emptied Himself of all heavenly splendor, taking the very nature of a slave (Philippians 2:7). He submitted to the laws of God, as well as the laws of Caesar, and kept them all for us. God’s Son came down to earth to do the one thing He could not do in heaven. … He came to die. That’s what the author of Hebrews means when he writes: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14-15). 

This is an incalculable condescension! 

God is not too proud for Him to become human! 

One day a British scientist discovered a large anthill in his kitchen garden.  These were different from any ants he had observed before, so he was eager to study them. But each time his shadow fell across the anthill, the terrified ants scurried off in terror.

“I stepped back,” the scientist wrote in his diary, “and sat down on the grass to think out the situation. I had only good will for the ants, did not wish to harm one of them. But how could I make the ants aware of my good will?”

“My imagination played with the problem. To those tiny ants, I was an all-powerful creature - somehow up there, whose thoughts they could not guess, whose ways and intentions they could not know.”

“If only I could communicate,” the scientist wrote. “But even that would not be enough. Even then, I would be a gigantic being to the ants, and they would never believe that I understood their problems - the minute organization of the hill, their struggles for food, their battles with other ants.”

“Only one thing could give them complete confidence. That is, if by some alchemy, I could - for a time - become an ant.”

Think of how God the Father so much loves us that He has sent His only begotten Son to have us children of His own. It wasn’t alchemy but the incarnation that made this possible. That is what we are still celebrating on this second Sunday after Christmas. We celebrate that God lived here. God cried as an infant. God was the Son of a carpenter. God touched lepers. God struggled under the weight of the cross. God was nailed to that cross. … God died. And in the darkness of the grave, God’s body was laid. 

In all this we see how much our God loves us! God humbled Himself. God was born in Bethlehem. God died in Jerusalem. God rose from the grave. God is seated on His throne in heaven. 

Humble yourselves before the Lord. Humble yourselves before the Lord humbles you. But please do not miss the significance of this: you are humbling yourself before the Lord who humbled Himself before you. That humiliation began in the little town of Bethlehem. 

It may seem like a little thing that the Savior was born in the little town of Bethlehem. But this happened so that Savior might accomplish the great thing of saving you from all of your little things. 

All of this is why we love to sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Amen.