Over this past weekend I traveled with my daughter Carolyn to Northern Ontario to visit and on Sunday preach God’s word to a congregation very dear to my heart. This was home base for many years – from birth to age 19 when I headed off to the “South” (read Toronto) for my first round of training. 2 summers during my undergraduate studies I returned to serve that congregation, then came back during my dad’s eventful summer of 1990 and was called to serve this flock from 1991 until June 2004 when God moved us onward to Toronto Baptist Seminary.
I did some thinking about “small” towns as we traveled from Oshawa to Thornloe. Ontario is filled with small towns, villages and even some hamlets where the “Welcome to” and “Thank You for Coming” are very close. I listened with keen interest as John Light, Adult Sunday School teacher this past Sunday in Thornloe shared his “angst” with people who describe small communities (such as Charlton where he lives) as ‘quaint’ or ‘bustling.’ He made a few comments, in his preamble to the lesson, about the “Little Town of Bethlehem” portrayed by Philip Brooks in his classic Christmas song. “How still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by…..”
In “The Story Behind the Carol” Rupert Christiansen writes –
On Christmas Eve in 1865, Phillips Brooks (1835-93), a gangling young American Episcopalian, rode the perilous journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, to assist at the midnight service in the Church of the Nativity.
Two years later, back in Massachusetts, he was inspired by the experience to write this carol for his Sunday school. Rev Brooks – 6ft 6in tall and capable of preaching at more than 200 words a minute – was a favourite with children; when one woman told her daughter that he had died, the girl replied: “O how happy the angels will be.”
Brooks’s carol was an instant success in the USA, but only came to England when Vaughan Williams introduced it in 1906, arranging it to the traditional tune Forest Green, which he had collected from peasants in Surrey in 1903.
Micah 5:2-5 (New International Version)
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. ”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
5 And he will be their peace.”
FANTASTIC – don’t you agree?
– a small community, a little town – rather insignificant – with little potential – who can say?
– God’s plan included Bethlehem as the birth place for His Son – amazing!
– out of you will come …..FOR ME….. For the LORD – one who will be ruler, whose “beginnings” were in eternity – Compare John 1:1ff “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God….”
Israel abandoned? Is this indicated in the 400 silent years – did they feel abandoned by God
– The one coming is a SHEPHERD – cf. John 10 “The Good Shepherd” Hebrews 13 “The Great Shepherd” I Peter 5 “The Chief Shepherd” O that today’s shepherds (pastors) would shepherd the flock with God’s strength and in His majesty.”
His greatness reaches to the ends of the earth – cf. Acts 1:8 as believers testify about Jesus Christ they spread His gospel, they introduce others to Him across the globe so that from the rising of the sun to its setting the LORD’s name is praised.
Small Town – “quaint?” “bustling?” “insignificant?” Not in the mind of God and in the hearts of true believers as we celebrate again this year the birth in BETHLEHEM of the KING of kings and LORD of lords!