31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 6, 2010
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
It’s the most wonderful time of the year….for singing. Our hymnal is full of many beloved hymns to sing on Christmas Eve, like Hark the Herald Angels Sing. O Come All Ye Faithful. We Three Kings. I have a hard time choosing each year for Christmas Eve worship – so I’ve stopped and we sing as many as possible!
And then there is all of the wonderful Christmas music on the radio. What are you favorites? Type them for me. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”? the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick”? Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph? One of my all time favorites is little Gayla Peevy singing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.
If you don’t know the song, the little girl sings that she doesn’t want a doll or tinker toys, she only “wants a hippo to play with and enjoy”. And with the enthusiasm of a child, she is sure that Santa will not mind bringing the hippo in through the front door.
Despite how cute the song is, I’m not sure Santa would ever bring a gift that big – because Santa is a saint, Saint Nicholas, and like the prophets, saints are close to God and know what is important and so Saint Nicholas, Santa, knows that the little things are important to God.
I wonder if that is why God chose “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as the place for Jesus to be born. Did God chose this rest stop on the way from Egypt to Jerusalem because it was little?
Yes and no. Yes, because throughout history, God has chosen to work through the small, to bless the ordinary, to call the person who is forgotten and overlooked.
As Daniel Simundson writes in his commentary on this passage:
“The small size of Bethlehem reminds one of a common Biblical theme: When God is about to do something great, human estimates of status, size, power, and influence are completely irrelevant. In fact, God often chooses someone whom we would probably dismiss as the most unlikely candidate for carrying out God’s mission.” (NIB, vol. VII, Simundson, pg 570)
So yes, choosing Bethlehem, also known as Ephrathah, the home of the extended family of the same name, as the place of the Messiah’s birth continued God’s work of upending the status quo and working through the small, the unlikely, the inconsequential.
And the answer is also no. God did not choose Bethlehem just because it was little, just because it would be a surprising place for the Messiah to be born. There were lots of little towns in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. One has to assume that there were also quite a few little towns on that same trade route from Egypt to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah.
The Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” says “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” and that was not all that came together in Bethlehem. Yes, it was a way God could continue to show us that God does not see the way that humans see.
And Bethlehem was also a place where people of deep faith had lived. People like Ruth, who after her husband died, followed her mother-in-law Naomi back to Naomi’s home country. Ruth was a foreigner. It would have made more sense for her to go back to her own family and marry again – a man of her own kind. That was the practical thing to do, and it is what her former sister-in-law Orpah did; however Ruth promised to Naomi that her people would be Ruth’s people, her God would be Ruth’s God. And Ruth was true to her promises. She faithfully and prayerfully listened to Naomi’s guidance and in time and in Bethlehem, married Boaz, and together they had a son, Obed, who had a son, Jesse, who had a son, David.
Bethlehem was the place where God had shown through Naomi and Ruth that God takes care of the forgotten, the widow and the orphan. Bethlehem was the place where God had shown that God can turn our sorrow into great gladness. Bethlehem was the place where God called and blessed Jesse’s youngest son to become the greatest warrior-poet king Israel had ever known. Bethlehem was the place where God reminded his prophets and the people of Israel that God does not look on outward appearances, God looks on the heart.
God was very intentional when God chose this little town as the birthplace of the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us.
Last week, I shared with you that God is with us in extraordinary ways like through the wonders of creation, and God is also with us through ordinary things – like the light bulbs on our Christmas decorations or through the words we speak to each other each day. God is with us in extraordinary places like the Grand Canyon, and God is with us in ordinary places, like wherever you are worshipping right now. God is always with us.
However, sometimes, it takes some real intentionality on our parts to create that space where we can know, where we can feel, that God is always with us. Lighting the candles on your home Advent wreath can be one way to intentionally create a space that feels sacred. I would love for you to share with me pictures of your Advent wreaths. And after Advent is over, I hope you will continue to light a candle for worship to remind you that Christ is always with you, shining and bringing life, love, and hope.
Candles aren’t the only small thing we can use to create holy, God with us, spaces. Years ago, our community made these small lavender heart sachets and another year, members of our community made us these strands of prayer beads. Small things that help us connect with God and know that God is with us. Once upon a time, a parishioner gave me this gift, which I use as a prayer shawl. If you would like one, there are quite a few knit prayer shawls in the FCC building, or consider what comfortable and cozy item you might have around your home – a blanket, a scarf, that you can hold or wrap around yourself and feel God’s loving arms wrapping around you.
With intentionality, little, ordinary things can become extraordinary reminders of Emmanuel, God with us. That is especially true as we gather to share in communion this morning. Through these last nine months, quite a few of you have shared with me your ordinary and extraordinary communion meals: saltines and orange juice, Oreos and milk, donuts and cider, yum. You tell me and laugh. Despite the laughter though, I hope that whether you have chosen these items intentionally or they were all you had, that you know that anything can symbolize Jesus, the bread of our life and the cup of our salvation. I hope you know that God is with you; God is loving you and blessing you, giving you a future of joy and hope, and filling your heart with peace through this little, ordinary meal.
The good news of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us. That God is with us in the extraordinary and the ordinary, God is with us in the magnificent and the miniature.
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 God, Emmanuel.