Summary: God uses the most insignificant things to make the most difference. It's true at Christmas, too!
The Christmas story is a great story, and it rivals anything Hollywood ever came up with. There’s conflict, anticipation, a villain (or several villains, depending upon how one looks at the story), political intrigue (especially as Herod attempts to deceive the magi), there’s tenderness, fear and amazement. Oh, a great story, indeed! Yet, for all its greatness, it really is simple and unadorned. In fact, it’s filled with insignificance.
“Insignificance? What are you talking about, preacher. We’re talking about the birth of the Savior of the world—Emmanuel, God with us, God in human flesh—what’s insignificant about that?” Don’t get offended by what I say! If you’re offended, blame Luke as he shares the birth of the Savior of the world from a Gentile’s perspective. That’s right! Luke is a Gentile, and as he tells the story he reveals how God fills the seemingly insignificant with His presence and turns the mundane into the majestic.
In Luke’s account, I learn about the insignificant places God uses to fill with His presence and transform the world. Luke mentions the “happening” places of the first century—Rome and Syria. Those were the political seats of power in the first century. It would be like a reporter today reporting something this way: “It was while Barak Obama was president and Bobby Jindal was governor, that there was a birth in St. Francis Hospital in Monroe.” Seriously, what is Monroe compared to Washington, D. C., or even Baton Rouge? No! Don’t answer that question! The point is that no one in those far off places cared much about Palestine, tucked away in a small pocket of the Roman Lake, otherwise known as the Mediterranean Sea. No one, that is, except God.
Yes, the focus of the story is not on Rome or Syria, but on a place like Bethlehem. Sure, it was the City of David, but that was of no significance to anyone but the Jews. To the Romans and Syrians it carried no clout at all. Or, places like Nazareth. Even Nathanial would ask in John’s Gospel, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Or, how about an insignificant place like a manger? A cattle trough, but Luke mentions it three times in the passage. And, don’t forget the pasture where the shepherds heard the story. There is nothing special about a sheep pasture. But, when God comes near, He turns the mundane into the majestic, and every place finds significance in proximity to God’s presence.
Luke not only tells us about insignificant places, but he also tells us about insignificant people. Sure, Caesar Augustus and Quirinius are mentioned in the story. They were the movers and shakers. Like E.F. Hutton, when they spoke, people listened. They had the power of taxation and census taking. But, Luke looks at a different cast of characters to tell the story. A young couple from Nazareth—Mary and Joseph. The ancient near east was full of young couples on the move during that time. There was nothing overtly significant about his young couple.