In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. – Matthew 2:1-12 [NRSV]
Napoleon had it. So did an acquaintance from my elementary school age years – according to my mom. The Gentle Giant didn’t need it. Whether or not Bethlehem had it is not certain. But the little man complex is real. People sometimes think they must make up for their lack of stature by acting strong and boisterous. They puff their chests out. They exert their opinions. Sometimes they do so in such a manner that no one could possibly disagree with them.
It seems, however, that Bethlehem suffered from a different malady. Bethlehem was thought to be little or of no significance. Forgettable. Inconsequential. Unimportant. Oh how sorry you are. You have no major airport. There are no shopping malls there. No megachurch. No sports team. Not a major market. You live in the shadow of the Big City.
Regardless of how you feel about President Clinton, he did come from the little town of Hope, Arkansas. Have you ever heard of Summit, New Jersey? Meryl Streep was born there. What of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, which is home to fewer than 10,000 people? It has produced nine pro football players, including Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett.
And there is the man after God’s own heart, King David, born in Bethlehem. And now, Jesus. A small town is not preemptive of importance of greatness. Jesus will now prove that to be the absolute embodiment of that reality. He actually is the King of the Jews. Herod notwithstanding.
When he wrote to the church in Corinth, St. Paul said, “We have this treasure in clay jars.” He was making the point that he and all people – other than Jesus himself – are broken, imperfect beings. We’re all sinners. Cracked pots. But we carry the treasure of God’s love and message of salvation so that it becomes clear that this is God’s work, not ours.
Do not put your trust in man, horses, gold, or fortified cities. When God is at work he can use anyone for his purposes. Thanks be to God that your birthplace nor your social status, or even your religious pedigree neither impresses God nor disqualifies you for service in his kingdom.