One of the most amazing Christmas hymns is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The lyrics are thoughtful, but the context is even more significant. This small village’s lowly and humble nature was the first to see the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The hymn says, “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.”
Last year, an article was published entitled “O’ Little Village of Bethlehem: Archeological Insights into the Settings of Jesus’ Birth.” The article delves into the humble nature of this small town. Bethlehem is located 5 miles south of Jerusalem. It was a small agricultural settlement with a cluster of homes for centuries.
The slopes of Bethlehem’s hills provided fertile land for olive tree orchards and fields of wheat and barley, which likely gave way to its name, which literally means “House of Bread.”
This small village was home to many shepherds who kept watch over pastures of sheep. The mud homes and dirt floors were typical residences, and the layout of the hills provided numerous small caves, which helps us understand the nativity scene.
Yet in this small, humble village, there was a birth of a King. Luke 2:10-11 tells us that on that night, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and said, “Today in the town of David, a savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.”
If the Jews expected the Messiah to come to liberate them from Roman oppression, why wasn’t Jesus born in Jerusalem? Among other reasons, I believe that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem signifies his lowly, humble nature. Jesus came as a servant, and his Kingly rule began in the most beautiful way.
Philippians 2:7-8 tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is our savior! Humble and meek. And how each of us recognizes Christ as our Lord and Savior begins by humbling ourselves and understanding our need for him.
I’m sure that the residents of Bethlehem felt insignificant. Living in Jerusalem, where the wealthy and affluent resided, was more expensive. The Bethlehem population dwelt meekly, focusing on what they knew best.
Farming crops would have been commerced in Jerusalem. Several shepherd’s fields would have been used to sell to families on their way to Jerusalem to offer lamb sacrifices.
But this small town was precisely the one that God wanted to use to accomplish his purposes. Bethlehem, though small, had an incredible purpose.
In the Christmas story, Bethlehem reminds us that if you’ve ever felt small, insignificant, and worthless, know that you are seen and loved by God, who has a plan for you.
The Savior of the world…born in a small village.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”
Caleb Duncan is the Director for the West Florida Baptist Association in Chipley and holds an M.A. in Ethics, Theology, and Culture from Southeastern Seminary. Email him at WfbaDom@outlook.com or follow his Twitter @calebtduncan.