But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace. When the Assyrians invade our land and break through our defenses, we will appoint seven rulers to watch over us, eight princes to lead us. -Micah 5.2-5
I remember once talking to a friend in college and trying to explain to her, a California native, where I lived. “It’s a little town north of Chicago,” I told her.
She straight up looked at me and declared, “There isn’t anything north of Chicago in Illinois.”
Fortunately for our little town, we did not rely on my friend’s sense of geography for our existence.
I go through something similar when people ask where I live now, another small suburb of the same giant city. When I say its name, I get that blank stare and “uh-huh” nod. “It’s between Naperville and Aurora,” I finally add. They nod vigorously then, an affirming look replacing the stare. Everyone knows where those towns are. We exist, if only in relation to other places far larger than we.
So I understand the self-esteem crisis of Bethlehem. No one expected much of it. Nothing important ever happened there. No mapmaker would ever write it in bold print. Even in history and art, it is forever branded as “little town” of Bethlehem.
Yet God promises big things from that small village. A ruler, one of majesty, and a source eternal peace. The Prince of Peace, in fact. The most earth-shaking, history-shattering child in all eternity will lay his head inside its perimeters.
Bethlehem has been promoted.
I understand the crisis of feeling small on a more personal level, too. As a writer, nearly every day I wrestle with the niggling fear that someone else is bigger, someone else is better, and everyone else will be noticed before my obscure little corner of personal geography ever comes to light.
As as pastor, I wonder if the people I love and work so hard for will “get” the infectious nature of God’s hope for them or if they will live inoculated but immune to the deeper meanings of the Kingdom.
As a parent, I doubt that the small words and gestures, not to mention the constant upkeep, make that big of an impact.
As a human being I struggle to know the things I do to fight injustice, little drips of hope and truth in an enormous ocean of wrong, will matter at all.
I’m not Chicago. I probably won’t ever create a nonprofit or write a bestseller or be a keynote at a national conference. But today, I am a Bethlehem. I finished a Welcome Kit for one refugee family who will need pots and pans and warm blankets when they arrive. (For it doesn’t matter which Chicago suburb you live in—they’re all cold in December.) I wrote one devotion that will help someone dealing with fear. I took one more step on a project of reconciliation and understanding. I planned a Christmas Eve service that might lead someone to know Jesus for the first time.
I may be only a small village in a world where cities get the attention. But small towns offer the simple sustenance the world needs. They show up daily to do the work. And occasionally, something hugely majestic arises from them, and they are remembered throughout history.
But they don’t have to be to matter.
What I must remember during those times of uncertainty is that like my hometown, like Bethlehem, I, too, exist in relation to Something much larger than myself. My works, minute or majestic, matter because of the One who makes them holy offerings for a King.
We exist. We exist most fully and completely only in relation to the One who is larger and greater and more amazing than we can imagine. O little town of Bethlehem—you are known. You are seen. And you rated all the host of heaven at your doorstep. Not because of who you are or what you did, but because of Who lived inside of you.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.