Micah 5:2 “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Sometimes we underestimate the power of small things and places, including one little person, one little family, one little church. In our society, we have a tendency to focus on the big and epic. The antidote to that tendency is prayerful praise generated by a revisiting of the Christmas narrative.  Think about the power of little things, the significance of the seemingly insignificant, such as the small town we sing about in the enduring Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem.

American pastor Philips Brooks, whose heart was stirred by a visit to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve of 1865, wrote the song. But the lyrics, O Little Town of Bethlehem, didn’t emerge until three years after his return home. Of his holy land tour, he said, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem close to the spot where Jesus was born. When the whole church was ringing, hour after hour, with splendid hymns of praise to God—how, again and again, it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well telling each other of the wonderful night of the Savior’s birth.”

Brooks returned home in 1868 and resumed his pastorate. At that point, he was still mulling over his Bethlehem experience, but as Christmastime approached, he set pen to paper. Putting his heart into each line, he wrote a five-stanza poem focused on that small ancient town as he envisioned it nearly 2,000 years before. He called it O Little Town of Bethlehem. As he and the church organist, Louis Redner, were preparing music for Christmas day, Brooks gave his partner a copy of his new poem. Redner set Brooks’ words to the music we all know and love. And what was born was the simple, beautiful, and singable Christmas song we now all know and love–O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem—it’s THE Christmas city. It’s also the focus of the key verse in Micah. Appropriately enough, Micah is a small book, tucked away among the other “minor” prophetic books at the back of the Old Testament.   The key verse, Micah 5:2, stands as the literary apex to the oft-dismissed book. It’s the poetic climax.  A climax that is accentuated by contrast-contrast with the “bigger” places surrounding it including the mighty Jerusalem that was providentially bypassed by Mary and Joseph on their transit from Nazareth to the obscure birthplace of God in infantile flesh.

Here are the lyrics of this rich Christmas hymn (note the last verse’s overt intercession):

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

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

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

It is time for our relationship with the Jesus of Christmas to go tiny and simple.  The only way for Jesus to “cast out our sins and enter in” is for us to become much littler in our own eyes!  Discard the bigger and better competitions.  Leave off from the complex, overly-sophisticated approaches to celebrating the Incarnation.  Discover Him in the small town moments and miracles only perceptible to the humble believer willing to enter the village limits of Bethlehem via Spirit-endued prayer and worship.  Remember only “meek souls can receive Him still.”  So…have yourself a merry LITTLE Christmas.

For more on the significance of the cities of Christmas, visit this link.

Story of O Little Town of Bethlehem quoted in The Small Gifts of Christmas: Discover the Beauty of Christmas in the Book of Micah . Todd Stiles. Kindle Edition.