As we gathered a couple of Sundays ago, we talked a little about preparing for Christmas. What are the things that sometimes may get in the way of us preparing for Christmas? One thing Carolyn and I have discovered about decorating for Christmas in a new space is the fact there are no ‘traditions.’ Households have many ‘traditions’ when it comes to celebrating Christmas. How and where things might be placed in decorating; what food might be prepared for guests as they come to the house to share in the festivities and for a meal to celebrate Christmas day. What order things might be done on Christmas Day, and how presents might be shared and unwrapped? As a child growing up I remember we had the ‘grandma’s never-ending present,’ this was a gift that was wrapped inside a box, inside another box, inside an even larger box, inside…. you get the picture! As a child, the prospect of a massive present due to the size of the first packing box was exciting. After opening the various layers which served to disguise the nature of the real present and so enhance the surprise, the gift itself, though a lot smaller than envisaged, was worth the effort to get to it. Grandma would say things like, “You don’t get diamonds as big as bricks you know,” or, “Large oaks from little acorns grow.” These words of wisdom or ‘proverbs’ remind us that in small things are enormous possibilities, and things we may see of little consequence can have immense significance.
That was a theme that ran through a lot of the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses taking on the might of Egypt, the boy David slaying Goliath, the prophet Elijah winning over the priests of Baal, Daniel in the lion’s den. The prophet Micah, whose writings we turn to each Advent and Christmastide, adds another unlikely example to the list.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now, he shall be great to the ends of the earth, and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:2-5a)
It is almost impossible for us to appreciate how extraordinary it would have been for the people to hear and read that the longed-for Messiah would be linked with such a ‘little’ town. Oh yes it had ties with King David, but Bethlehem, really? Surely Jerusalem is the fitting place for a gift so special to be received? Well, in human terms that certainly seems to be appropriate but not in God’s eyes. So often before and since, God proves himself to be the God of surprises and the unexpected. The kingdom of God so often finds that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. A kingdom that was described once as a grain of mustard seed that is the smallest of all the seeds yet can produce a large shrub that can support the weight of birds who can nest in it.
I wonder if, like me, you too have been surprised on occasions at achieving something you thought yourself incapable of doing. Do you sometimes judge the gift by the size of the packaging that surrounds it? Perhaps this should be our prayer this week:
Loving God, time, and time again you overturn our human expectations. You chose the most unlikely of people in yet more unlikely surroundings. You continuously demonstrate that no person, place or action is outside the scope of your purpose or being used by you. Help me to see the potential in everyone and everything.
Shalom to you, my friend.