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.
Luke also mentions shepherds. There are two words that best describe shepherds of the first century—misfits and outcasts. And, there were quite a few of them, too. It took a lot of sheep to provide food, clothing and religious sacrifices in those days. We tend to romanticize everything in our culture. We tend to see shepherds like American cowboys sitting by the fire under a twinkling sky, but instead of the lowing of cattle in the background it is the bleating of sheep. Forget that image. Shepherds we so insignificant they were not allowed in cities and were often considered thieves. It would be like more like angels appearing over at Desiard Street Shelter to a bunch of homeless people.
Let’s not forget that Luke also tells us about the innkeeper. He’s so insignificant that Luke doesn’t even give him a name. Simply a nameless and faceless person, but when God shows up, even the nameless and faceless find significance, meaning and purpose. Young couples, shepherds and innkeepers going about their mundane lives, but God shows up and the mundane is made majestic and the insignificant is transformed into a powerful part of God’s story.
Neither can we forget that Luke includes an insignificant event in the story, but that insignificant event is the center of the story. Of course, I’m talking about the birth of Jesus. It seems insignificant because babies are born every day. If it happened here, the News-Star would simply say “Joseph & Mary, baby boy, 7 lbs., 3 oz., Thursday.” Big deal, right? The front page headlines would read, “Congress Passes Tax Increase” instead. Yet this birth was anything but normal, especially for those of us who believe. This birth, so insignificant to others, was a matter of Scripture fulfilled. This birth was a matter of a virgin conception and virgin birth. This birth was a matter of God breaking into time and changing all history. But, this event, so seemingly insignificant at the time, was the wisdom of God at work. So, said the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1: 26 – 28: