Nowadays it expresses to me the contrast between God’s ways and those of man. In the United Kingdom there are two main competing TV stations, one is owned and funded by the State and is well known by its initials BBC. The other is a commercially owned station with the letters ITV. Throughout the year these vie for viewers and in the weeks leading up to Christmas, two shows dominate Saturday evenings, for BBC it is “Strictly Come Dancing” and for ITV “The X Factor” similar to the well-known “American Idol” show. A great deal of excitement is generated by these two programs, some follow avidly, others, (like ourselves) take a peek if we are at home and either switch off or find something else to watch!
The glitter, the pizzazz, the flashing lights, heavily made up, fashionable men and women together with the media hype in newspaper and internet all add up to a heady concoction that attempts to satisfy the appetite of the human soul. But contrast this with the way God consistently moves to give lasting bread to the souls of men and women. The birth of the Lord Jesus epitomizes the heart of God and His ways of working. If, in a measure, the superficial ways of man are encapsulated in those two TV shows with their songs and music, so the ways of God are poetically expressed in a beautiful carol written by a Philadelphia clergyman named Philips Brooks. In 1865 he visited Bethlehem, and wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in response to what he saw there. It is a beautiful carol for which two tunes were composed and both of them are excellent, complementing the words perfectly, one by the organist in Brook’s Episcopal church in USA and the other by a British composer named Vaughan Williams. It was certainly not by chance that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
That it was a ‘little town’ is a fact, not in a palace in the capital city was the Savior of the world born! We all know the story so well, there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn and so a stable was their chamber; her time came and the babe was born and laid in a manger. This was significant too, for a manger is a place where food was placed for the animals to eat, the name “Bethlehem” actually means “ House of Bread” and later, when Jesus was grown to manhood He announced, “I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on Me shall never thirst.” (John 6v35) There are five verses in the carol, take time to look at them, especially bearing in mind the idea of the hidden-ness of God’s ways, the absence of show, His silent activity in secret places, when people sleep unaware, He is at work and what He plants will come to fruition and be gloriously manifested in due season. All this is entirely consistent with His working throughout history.
When Jesus spoke of His kingdom and it’s coming He said that it does not come with observation. (Luke 17v20) One of His defining parables graphically illustrates the planting and the growth of the Kingdom of God, I have always been arrested by it as He describes that it is like a man casting seed into the ground and then sleeps and rises night and day, the seed springs up and he does not know how and yet the earth brings forth of itself, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear! (Mark 4v26-30) We must embrace these ways of God with understanding faith, we who are mercilessly bombarded by the flashing superficialities of the world in which we live should arm ourselves and not neglect the mind of Christ He has given to His church. (1 Cor 2v16) We must remind ourselves frequently. Recall His choice of the elderly idolater Abram and the promise that He would bless him and through him all the nations would be blessed. (Gen 12v2&3) Mary was one of the distant offspring of Abraham, to her the angel Gabriel was sent and the Holy Spirit came.
We should love the beauty and simplicity of the scripture narrative when it declares, “the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1V26&27) He was not sent to King Herod or worldly high priest but to a woman meek in heart prepared to be “the handmaid of the Lord.” The hidden-ness of God is real, He does not mesmerize, manipulate and entice, He turns away from the flash and glitter to seek the “meek soul’s still” so that He may enter in. Cattle sheds are not the cleanest of places, yet there He was born and to souls that know their ‘dust’ He shall come gladly come to cast out their sin and enter in.
It was ordinary men, shepherds watching over their flocks by night that saw and heard angels! They left the hillside and went into the little town to “see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2v15) and became the first evangelists of the Christ child! Ponder the verses of the carol, feed on the Lord by faith in your heart and be strengthened. Next time you take the communion, that little wafer or piece of bread and that little sip of wine, remember that even in this too the ways of God are seen, for the broken and the poured out life of Christ has reached throughout the earth, even today into human hearts He comes and in due time He shall come in glory, no longer hidden and every eye shall see Him then!
O little town of Bethlehem, Where children pure and happy
How still we see thee lie! Pray to the blessed Child,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep Where Misery cries our to Thee,
The silent stars go by. Son of the Mother mild:
Yet in the dark streets shineth Where Charity stands watching,
The everlasting Light: And Faith holds wide the door,
The hopes and fears of all the years The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
Are met in thee tonight. And Christmas comes once more.
O morning stars, together O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Proclaim the holy birth! Descend to us we pray!
And praises bring to God the King, Cast out our sin and enter in,
And peace to men on earth. Be born in us today.
For Christ is born of Mary We hear the Christmas angels
And gathered all above, The great glad tidings tell:
While mortals sleep the angels keep O, come to us, abide with us,
Their watch of wondering love. Our Lord Emmanuel!
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming:
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.