Summary: A sermon exploring the theological truth taught by this familiar and beloved Christmas hymn.
(Read Text) I want to encourage you to turn to hymn number 143, "O Little Town Of Bethlehem."
The words of this beloved Christmas carol were written by Phillip Brooks. Brooks was pastor of the Holy Trinity Episcopal church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1869 to 1891. He was recognized as one of America’s outstanding preachers, and many volumes of his sermons have been published. In fact, his messages are required reading for many studying for the ministry today in our seminaries. Brooks wrote this hymn in 1868 for the children of the Sunday School at his church, after his visit to Bethlehem in 1865. The tune was written by Lewis Dedner, the organist at Holy Trinity Episcopal church at Brook’s request.
This hymn echoes the truth of Scripture concerning the birth of Christ. Specifically, it speaks of two great things concerning the birth of Jesus.
1. Christ’s Birth Was According to a Divine Plan - vs. 1- 3a
We are told two things about how God carried out His plan in bringing the Savior into the world.
A. The Savior would be born in an unassuming way - vs. l-2a; "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" - v. 1
Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6). In verse 2, the town is referred to as "small" in the NIV, and "little" in the KJV. Bethlehem was a little town.
In verse 1, we read a call to arms. The city of Jerusalem (city of troops) was being called on the muster armies to meet the enemies of Israel.
Bethlehem, however, was too little to be called on to muster an army of any kind. Hence, the name of Brooks’ hymn, "O Little Town Of Bethlehem." The point is, however, that though Bethlehem was small in the eyes of men, by power of God and within the plan of God, Bethlehem was going to be part of something very big - the coming of the Messiah into the world! That is the essence of this great Christmas song -the big event which God brought about through a small, seemingly insignificant town - Bethlehem.
A series of pictures in a popular magazine portrays the story of a one-note musician. ... He takes his seat in the orchestra with the other musicians, arranges his score, and tunes his instru¬ment. On the arrival of the conductor, the music begins with the leader skill¬fully bringing in first one group of mu¬sicians and then another. After a long time the crucial moment arrives — it is the time when the one note is played. The conductor turns to him and his one note sounds forth. Once more the or¬chestra plays and the one-note man sits quietly throughout the rest of the con¬cert. . . . One note only! It may be that our part in life’s work may be very small . . . but even that is important.
Bethlehem had only one note to play in the orchestration of God’s redemptive plan, but it was an important one! God still works this way today. In many unassuming ways, often through unassuming people, God is at work to carry out His work in this world. As Theodore Cuyler once put it, "Often the most useful Christians are those who serve their Master in little things. He never despises the day of small things, or else He would not hide His oaks in the acorns, or the wealth of a wheat field in bags of little seeds."
The problem with too many of us, as Vance Havner observed, is "So many of us are not big enough to become little enough to be used of God." Are you guilty, as the prophet Zechariah put it, of "despising the day of small things?" Do you think yourself above doing certain things within the work of God’s kingdom?
Are you making the mistake of bypassing "little" opportunities, because you’re looking for some "big" responsibility to fall into your lap? We would do well to pay heed to the advise of F.B. Meyer, who said, "Do not wait to do a great thing. The opportunity may never come. But since little things are constantly claiming your attention, do them for a great motive - for the glory of God."
For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost;
For the want of a shoe, a horse was
lost; For the want of a horse, a rider was
lost; For the want of a rider, a message was
lost; For the want of a message, a battle
was lost; For the want of a battle, a kingdom
was lost; All for the want of a nail!
How much of God’s work goes undone today, because we fail to recognize what great purposes God wants to carry out through the small things He calls us to do?