O Little Town of Bethlehem
So I have a question for you. Do you ever feel like your life is insignificant? Does anybody else feel that way but me? Sometimes you feel like maybe your life doesn’t matter? Doesn’t capture anybody else? Sometimes I struggle with this and I know I am not alone. That’s why I could stand up here and say this to you. I know I am not alone in feeling insignificant because there’s a whole genre of music out there that describes this feeling all the time. It’s called country. Just think of a few titles of actual country songs that speak about feeling insignificant and sometimes a little helpless and hopeless. Here are a few that are my favorite. Here’s one. “Every time I make my mark somebody paints the wall”, “I am standing in the middle of the river and I am dying in a thirst.” How about this one? “Why don’t your dog bite nobody but me?” And I like this one, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and Lord, I hope it ain’t no train.” They are just desperate, aren’t they? They are just depressing. Significant, purpose and meaning are so important to our souls that when we don’t find that or we don’t feel that our soul sings songs of lament. That’s why the country music industry so big. Did you know that? Because we got to sing along to some of those songs every now and then. And I tell you it often happens to me because I often compare myself to other people. I know I shouldn’t do that. I know I am not supposed to do that. I am just being honest. Sometimes I do that from time to time, and I don’t think I am alone in this. Because this is the season for lots of stuff. It’s almost the season for the top 10 lists. Every year, at the end of the year, there’s the top 10 list like top 10 the most athletic people of 2018. Top 10 sports stars of 2018, Guess what? I am not on that list. Top 10 most beautiful women in all of 2018. I am on that list, either. Like the most influential people of 2018. Yep, I am not on that list, either. Most innovative, most creative, …. None of the above. None of these. When I compare myself to those things I never seem to measure up and this can leave me feeling insignificant.
One of the things that our culture really values is fame. Have you noticed that? Like how famous are you, how many people follow you on Facebook, or how many Youtube video hits you get, just all those things. I love the story that pastor Tony Campolo tells about when he was in Philadelphia growing up as a teenager, they would often go out every October Thirties for something called mischief night. Some of you have participated in this? How exciting. We didn’t have this kind of thing in Korea. I’ve always heard this as a story and I feel like I missed out on something. Who had mischief night? Go ahead and confess up. It’s the church. Okay. In Tony’s world, when he was growing up in Philadelphia, they had mischief night on October 30th, they would go out. They were Christian kids, so they did something that was just annoying. You know, they weren’t outright criminal. They would put soap on windows, they would let air out of tires, those kinds of things. And his favorite thing that they did was they went to the local dollar general type of store and they came in through the basement, and they didn’t steal anything because they were church kids. What they did though is they rearranged all of the price tags on the items. They switched all of the price tags throughout the entire store and they left that night with such glee as you do when you pull a prank on somebody and they could just imagine what it was like the next morning when electronics were selling for pennies, bobby pins were selling for hundreds of dollars. They switched the price tags on everything. So, can I tell you what I think our culture has done? Our culture has switched our price tags on what it considers valuable and truly significant, and truly worthwhile. I think this is why we worship all of these created things and not the Creator who’s worthy to be praised. Imagine there is God’s top 10 list and there are places and people that are used by God significantly. And that’s one of the things I love about the Bible. It is because of its’ story after story, time after time when God uses insignificant things and places and people to do amazing and significant things. It is so nice that we put out all the Christmas ornaments and nativity set and everything. But let’s remember what the Christmas story is all about. (sd) The Christmas story is a story of God using insignificant things. Don’t lose sight of it. How amazing it is God uses seemingly insignificant things for significant and eternal purposes. This is good stuff. We can’t make this up. It’s amazing what God has done in human history. And the song that you just sang describes it so beautifully. Let’s look at the song together. Let’s make a couple of observations about how God uses insignificant things. Number 1. (sd) God used an insignificant city. Bethlehem. Who’s heard of Bethlehem? Of course, we know where Bethlehem is now, but before, nobody knew where Bethlehem was. Let’s look at how the song expressed it. “O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Now it’s not surprising news because we’ve heard it whole life. If it would be surprising news if you were living in Bethlehem. Anybody knows the Republic of Nauru? It is an island country in Micronesia. Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific, smallest republic and third-smallest state by area in the world, behind only Vatican City and Monaco. No one knows this country, right? Bethlehem is like Nauru and yet this is the place God chose to use. The prophet Micah told everybody this was going to happen. I am sure it’s still unbelievable at the time but look with me at what he writes. This is about thousand years before Jesus came to earth. (sd) “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” Micah 5:2 (NLT) That’s cool stuff. Like I said these words were written way before Jesus’ born and no one could have any idea that God was going to use this town and God used this nameless, seemingly insignificant small town to be the place where Jesus was born! God is saying like I use what you consider to be insignificant and use it for something amazing.
Consider with me number 2. (sd) God used an insignificant people! Meet Mary and Joseph. Look with me the next verse on the screen.
(sd) For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above, While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth, And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
Now all the people you would send Jesus to. I think God did something amazing by sending Jesus to this couple. In those days there were three stages for a couple to get married. They had arranged marriages. Some of you can be grateful you don’t live in those days. They were first engaged together. The fathers of the groom and the bride would arrange all terms of the marriage and then they would be betrothed, which means they would exchange vows together, but they wouldn’t sexually consummate the marriage and then would come the actual marriage later on. Joseph and Mary were in stage two of stage three, which means Mary was still a virgin when the Holy Spirit came upon her and I would have loved to have heard the conversation. Wouldn’t you? I mean can you imagine that listening to that conversation? You know, “Joseph, I am pregnant.” What? What??? Oh, it’s the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry. What? Think about it. This peasant girl and this handy guy with this unbelievable story and it’s scandalous! And what is God up to? And God is using what the world considers to be insignificant for something that is going to change the entire human history. This is what God had planned all along. Look with me at Galatians 4:4. Let’s read it out loud. (sd) “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.” Galatians 4:4 (NLT) It’s God’s plan to send Jesus to this young couple because she was humble and the guy was righteous. I think this city and this couple give some of its greatest credibility. Some of your wired skeptics and I get it. I understand being wired that way and yet think what credibility this gives the gospel. No human would make this up. I mean this is the exact wrong way to go about it. We want to go to Rome, We want to talk about powerful people living in Rome. That would be the way to go, but that’s not what God did. You see, (sd) The Christmas story is the single most significant event in human history. Using insignificant characters as the culture would define them, but it’s the single most important event in human history. I want to try to convince you of this. Why is it so significant? Well because (sd) Jesus was born to save us. That’s why. Let’s see verse 3. (sd) How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n; So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Silently God sends to our sin-sick world and our sin-sick souls the blessing of the heaven. See the Christmas story is the story of salvation. There’s the shadow of the cross over the top of that cradle. We celebrate this time of the year for Jesus was born to die. He was born to be a sacrifice for our sins. Look with me at Luke 2:11. (sd) “The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” Luke 2:11 (NLT) What is he called? The Savior. Say it with me. The Savior. Not just a great teacher although he was. Not a great person although he was. Not just a healer although he was. He is a Savior and he alone can take away the penalty of sin for his sacrifice. So all of the guilt that you feel, all of that separation from God that is being experienced in your life, it can be gone today forever! You can unite your heart with Christ’ heart and it comes in such a simple way, doesn’t it? It seems almost insignificant these moments, but don’t miss him. Don’t miss them in my life. We so often say, “I am so insignificant” and I want to say this to you today, “You are not!” You’re created in your mother’s womb and God knit you together in that hidden secret place. God knows all the hairs on your head and God loves you with an everlasting love. And for all who would receive the Son, Jesus, for all who would call upon his name, he gives the right to be called children of God and that’s who you are. Don’t let this world, this culture tell you anything different. Don’t let a top 10 list come out and tell you-you don’t measure up. If you will only humble yourself, for meek souls can receive him still today.
He’s not done yet. Look with me number 2. (sd) Jesus was born to sanctify us! Here comes the big word, sanctify! It means to move us from sinner to saint! It means God doesn’t leave us where we are. God wants to bring us into God’s own likeness, in God’s own image,
Let’s see verse 4. (sd) O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Again, we participated in our own diminishment. We say, “I am so messed up. God can’t use me.” Do you ever do that? This is not a raise your hand moment. I just know some of you agree with me. We’re wired alike in God’s grace in that feeling of insignificance God sees you and God loves you. God loves to pour God’s power into your life so that you can be transformed.
Look with me how Jesus says when he gathers with his disciples at the night he’s going to be betrayed. He says these words. (sd) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NLT) Can we read the last part again? “For apart from me you can do nothing.” With God, all things are possible. When it comes to Christian life when it comes to experiencing that, I got to stay connected to that vine and then amazing things can happen in my life and yours.
Don’t participate in your own self-diminishment. You are not insignificant. God loves you and God wants to change your life, transform your life today.
Can I tell you how God transforms our lives? Not only the mountain top experiences like going on a mission trip, going to Israel but the small moments, seemingly insignificant decisions, am I gonna be kind, am I going to be patient, am I going to believe what I don’t feel like believing. Am I going to have hope in the face of this situation?
As we string together enough of those small decisions as God works and moves in our lives. Find ourselves sanctified, transformed, significant, because God is alive and working in our life.
God uses small things for God’s glory. There was a young adult whose name is Johnny. Johnny was mentally challenged. Johnny was at a church in North Carolina. Every Sunday Johnny came to the pastor asking for something to do in ministry for the church. He said, “I want to do something, Pastor. What can I do? What can I do?” And the pastor couldn’t think of anything for him and one day he was just exasperated. He said, “I guess you can go out onto the side of the road right by the church, just go out and wave at people.” So Johnny began his waving ministry. And he stood outside of the church and he waved at people and smiled with people as they drove by. That church grew from 70 to 350 in a short time because Johnny stood out there and waved! And everybody came and they wanted to know why they came. “Why did you come to church?” Nobody was coming to this church. “Well, because the kid out there waving!” People began to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, began to be sanctified because some kid stood out there and waved at people! It’s so insignificant and yet it’s so like God, isn’t it? It’s so like Jesus! God can do something beautiful using insignificant things! And today we feel insignificant, don’t leave the church feeling that way. Today is the day for meek souls receive God still. God wants to move heaven in your heart, into your heart.