“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 ancient times.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
People don’t expect much from small towns. The pace of life there is slow. There aren’t many job opportunities. Retail offerings are limited. Medical capabilities are limited. Culture isn’t being created. Frankly, most of them are dying. Nothing of real significance happens there. Except this one time, the King of Heaven entered earth in a small town and the world has never been the same.
Not to make any of you jealous (although if you start feeling it a bit, I’ll understand why), but I happen to live in the greatest small town in the United States. It’s one of those small towns that is under threat of becoming not such a small town because so many people want to live here. We have three big parades, a Christmas tree lighting, and a National Day of Prayer event every year. Our annual Fourth of July carnival quintuples the town’s population for a week each summer. We host the state’s largest cruise-in once a month when car enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes fill up Main Street with their vehicles and lawn chairs and just enjoy a Friday evening together. Businesses are moving in on Main Street. The local school is an institution. The churches are all on good terms with one another and cooperate regularly for prayer and worship events. It’s safe to let your kids play outside. Honestly, it’s a slice of movie-magic nostalgia that exists in real life. I didn’t grow up planning on living in a small town, but boy am I glad I do.
But, while I live in the greatest small town in the country (and probably the world if you really must know), I am fully aware that we are the exception to the rule. All across the country are small towns that are nothing like this one. There may be more small towns than big cities and by several orders of magnitude, but many if not most of them are dying.
And if you think about it, this really isn’t much of a surprise. Culture gets created when people get together and interact with one another. The more people you have, the more culture that gets created. Big cities are where the innovation happens. They are where major sports teams can afford to be located. They are where the arts can flourish. They are where the centers of political power develop. And, more people means more opportunities for just about everything.
When I was in seminary there was what I perceived to be a clear preference for urban ministry. The “cool” churches were all in the heart of the city. Professors spoke often about the ministry opportunities there. The practical ministry courses were focused in that direction. And for the years I was there I had a growing disquiet in my spirit because I knew that wasn’t where God was calling my wife and me to be.
I’ve always had a heart that resonated for the underdog. The overlooked and the left out have always attracted more of my attention than the flashy and the noticed. My heart beats with the pulse of rural and small town life. I know that’s not the call He has for everybody, but it is for me.
Here’s a little secret I’d like to share with you: Small towns are a lot bigger than you might think. They tend to be the places where big ideas have their ultimate origination. Sure, they may be formalized in a big city environment, but there’s a good chance that the people who have them started out somewhere small. The sheer number of small towns versus big cities makes this likely if nothing else does. As a case in point, the inventors of Teddy Ruxpin and pantyhose heralded from my town.
And, when it came time for God the Son to enter creation as a fully human baby boy, He could have chosen anywhere for that to happen. But where did He go? A small town. As a matter of fact, the prophet Micah foretold of this happening several hundreds of years before it actually took place. The Ancient of Days, the King of Glory, the Lord of all Creation entered the world that He made not heralded from the rooftops in one of the major cities of His time, but in a tiny hamlet that barely made it onto the local maps.
From that humble location, God set out to redeem the world. Here’s the truth for us: the size or prominence of a location has no bearing on how much God can accomplish through it. As the cliché goes, big things can come in the smallest of packages.
But hear this well: What is true of towns and even of bends in the road is true of you and me too. Just because we come from humble circumstances doesn’t mean God doesn’t have big plans for us. In fact, the more unlikely it seems that we’re going to do anything of significance, the more likely it is that God will use us to accomplish incredible kingdom goals if we will let Him. He loves to put His power on display in places where He is the only one who can possibly get the credit—He loves for us to see Him for who He really is.
So, think over your life. Do you ever feel like you just aren’t enough for Him to do very much? Be faithful and patient and see just how much He has planned to accomplish through you. It may not look like very much at first, but let the kingdom seeds He plants grow to their fullest measure and everyone will be marveling at the results. This kind of thing is what lies right at the heart of the Christmas story. May you experience its power to the fullest this season.