We live on the outskirts of a small town, with a population of perhaps three or four hundred people.
My family often takes the “by-pass,” as I call it, missing town all together. But I usually drive through it—how else would I know how many tractors are for sale at the sprinkler company and what the flavor of the week is at the ice cream parlor? The big news is they are finally building a convenience store and we will be able to buy gas in town. It’s a small town with simple people, and an average median income of $35,000. We don’t get royal visitors very often. In fact, hardly anyone ever comes here at all.
Jesus was born is such a town. Bethlehem was too small to be listed in the cities of Judah, yet the prophet Micah says: “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.”Of course there were a lot of people there when Jesus was born. A census had been ordered by the Roman emperor, and everyone had to go to their home town and register. No wonder we are told there was “no room for them in the inn.” And no wonder they found a place in a stable. I’m pretty sure if everyone whose family had come from Horton had to come back, I could rent out a few corners of my barn.
In such a place and under such conditions, Jesus was born. This was the inspiration for O Little Town of Bethlehem, which notes:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting Light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
There was so much longing for this very moment, and yet it finally occurred off stage, as it were, witnessed only by angels and shepherds.
How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is given!
This was the plan all along. The Apostle Paul tells us, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) For our sake He became poor, born in obscurity, practically unnoticed. This is how it had to be. How else would He know the flavor of the week? How else would He know our sorrows and carry our griefs? How else might He meet the hopes and fears of all the years?
Advent invites us to consider the humility of One whose coming and going forth had been known by the prophets from ancient times. And yet they could not have imagined how lowly—and how lovely—it could be. ”Above the deep and dreamless sleep“ of this small village the drama of redemption would unfold, and ”God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.”
And so it is and has to be:
where meek souls will receive him still
the dear Christ enters in.
O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by pastor Phillips Brooks in 1868 for his Sunday School. He had visited Bethlehem in 1866, and was struck by how small it was.
See also, Is it Christmas Yet (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)