This passage is a reminder to me of 3 things: that God is faithful to His promises, however small or big they might be, that God is at work in all things, and that God is attentive to the details. How did I get all of that from these few verses? I’m glad you asked!
Since the very beginning God had been promising a Redeemer and a Saviour that would come and make right all that went wrong in the Garden of Eden. From Genesis chapter 3 onwards we read of God’s promise that one day the seed of Eve would crush the enemy’s head. God promises Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed. We read stories of slavery and freedom, of kings who rise and fall, prophets who speak for God, people that obey and disobey, and through it all is the promise that one day a ruler will come to sit again on King David’s throne. This King above all Kings would establish a new kingdom that would last forever and ever. Promises made throughout the Old Testament that would find fulfillment in the birth of Jesus.
Our reading today gives us a prophetic word that this ruler, whose origins are from of old (you can’t get much older than before time began), would come from Bethlehem in Judea. It seems a small thing, in fact, Bethlehem is a small place, but God is attentive to the details. If He spoke it then it will come to pass. So with this passage in mind I read Luke 2, and I smile that knowing smile that means this is about to be so good.
Luke 2 begins this way,
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary who…was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to born.”
Hmmm. So let me see, it just so happens that following the angel announcing to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah a census needs to be taken. A census would be taken that involved the entire Roman world (which is nearly the entire known world at that time) and one that would require people to go to their ancestral homes. Interesting. The prophet Micah said the Ruler would come from Bethlehem, which is some 80 miles from Nazareth where Mary and Joseph lived. What a coincidence that a census would be issued during her pregnancy requiring them to travel a great distance to the very town that Micah had spoken of. Furthermore, it’s fascinating that while they were there, in Bethlehem, the time would come for Jesus to be born. Are you smiling now too?
So many times we wonder if God cares, if He’s paying attention, if He is working on our behalf? We question if He will remain true to His word, if He’ll continue to be faithful. Bethlehem reminds me that, yes, God is faithful to His promise. He promised a ruler would come from Bethlehem and the One who rules over us both now and forever was born right there and placed in a manger. Bethlehem reminds me that God will move heaven and earth to keep those promises to His people – a census requiring nearly the whole world to travel and crisscross countries to return to ancestral homes and made to look like it was the idea of a pagan Caesar but was ultimately masterminded by the God who is at work in all things – no big deal! Bethlehem reminds me that God is attentive to the details – He had 9 months to get this together – the angel, the census being decreed, the travel, the delivery occurring after they arrive and not a moment before – these were no small details! Bethlehem reminds me that God is in control!
“O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” what a blessed reminder you are! God is faithful! God is at work! God cares! And, because God cannot change it means He is still faithful to His people – that’s you and me. He is still at work in our lives as well, and He still cares about the details of your story too.