The Coming King - Born In Bethlehem
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2).
“When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” (Matthew 2:4–6).
Who doesn’t love a good “rooting for the underdog” story? The hockey team made up of rivals creates a cohesive whole to go on and beat the previously unbeatable Russian team to win Olympic gold (Miracle). The football team who has to learn to overcome racial bias and prejudice and goes onto win the state championship (Remember the Titans). The single dad fighting poverty and homelessness to keep his son and provide a better life for them (The Pursuit of Happiness). The prisoner of war who finds the strength to never give up, to never break down (Unbroken).
These stories, and so many more like them, inspire us to wonder what it might look like if we were to rise to the challenge and overcome the odds. They remind us of the power of the human spirit and that you should never disregard someone who has discovered just how strong their will to not only survive but thrive can truly be. We love to see the underdog, the underestimated win because, in most situations, we know we are not the smartest, fastest, richest, or most talented person in the room. In most situations, we know we are the underdog and we like to believe that, regardless of how small the chance may be, there is a chance we will rise above succeed despite the odds not lining up in our favor.
While it may be hard for us to imagine given how well known Bethlehem is today, in the days of the prophet Micah, and even still when Jesus was born, it was the underdog of the tribes of Israel. While it was known as the hometown of King David, it had never become a powerful or influential city in its own right. But being the hometown of David, and with Joseph being of the house and lineage of David, it would play an important role in the coming of the promised Messiah. When Micah declares that out of Bethlehem shall come “The One to be Ruler over Israel,” the prophecy is not met with an attitude of ‘Oh yes, of course the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.’ Instead, it is met with disbelief.
‘Surely,’ the first listeners would have thought to themselves, ‘you can’t possibly have said that right. Tiny little Bethlehem who can’t even begin to defend themselves.’ And yet, God, just as he choose the unlikely youngest, smallest son to fight Goliath and be chosen to become the great King David, he chooses a relatively small, unlikely spot as the birthplace for His Son.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we see the words of Micah remembered as the wise men seek the place of the new-born King. Interestingly, Jesus wasn’t born where Mary and Joseph had started a home together. They only go to Bethlehem to fulfill the requirements of a census decree put out by Caesar Augustus. Mary and Joseph would have been MUCH happier staying in Nazareth in those last days before Mary was to give birth. They would have been in their own home, surrounded and supported by family and friends. If Mary wouldn’t have had a midwife, at the very least she would have the benefit of all the women in her family who had given birth before her gathered around to help ensure a safe delivery for mom and baby.
This decree is also why this young couple could not find a place to stay in Bethlehem. Remember, Bethlehem is a relatively small town. It is not equipped to handle a sudden influx of visitors. While they have a few small inns, they would not have had any sort of infrastructure in place to house the several hundred people suddenly arriving. The inn keeper, in allowing Joseph and Mary to stay in the stable, was being kind as the other option would have been for Mary to have the baby in the open of the city streets and sidewalks.
In being born in the stables, with the animals as the primary witnesses, Jesus’ entry into this world is a humble one indeed. He is born, not only in the smallest and most overlooked towns in Israel, but within that town he is born in a random, common, ordinary place. One would think that, if he is to be born in such a small, humble town, at least he would be born to the richest, more influential of families. Instead, just a David, as a simple shepherd boy, once lived among his sheep to protect and guide them, Jesus, the Great Shepherd, is born among the sheep and cows.
It would be wonderful to think that, after word began to spread about what the shepherds heard and saw on the night Jesus was born, or of the magi’s visit and gifts to the young child, that people began to re-read the prophecies of the Messiah. And yet, when Jesus first began to gather his disciples and start his public ministry, the question is asked, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Still today we have a tendency to underestimate the significance of Jesus birth, live, teachings, death, and resurrection. We tend to fall into this trap of believing that our situation is so unique and special as to be beyond the understanding of anyone else, including God. And if we worshiped a God who never dwelt among us, we would find ourselves worshipping a God who isn’t able to understand what we are going through. But the miracle of Christmas is God becoming man. God is big enough to handle our pain and sorrows because God understands our pain and sorrows.
- In what ways do you tend to underestimate others? In what ways do you tend to underestimate God?
- Have you ever stopped to really think about what it meant for God to become man? How does this help you relate to Jesus?