O Little Town of Bethlehem


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed;
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child. (Once in royal David’s City: 1)

During these Christmas days, our thoughts easily turn to consider the little town where mother Mary gave birth to our Savior. The story of that ancient and sacred village engages us still today. Before its gates Jacob buried his beloved Rachel (Genesis 35:16-20). In the fields of Bethlehem pious and faithful Ruth gleaned and gathered her sheaves for her master Boaz (Ruth). On the hillsides above her great-grandson David tended his father’s flocks. The little brook from which the hunted shepherd king so longed to drink in his great thirst (2 Samuel 23:15) still murmurs in the green valley lying at the foot of the town. To the little town of Bethlehem came Joseph and his young wife when great David’s greater Son was born in a lowly cattle shed.

How wonderful are the ways of God! The Ruler of Israel, the everlasting King of mercy, the Lord of peace is not born in some lordly mansion in Athens or in an imperial palace in Rome, but in the poor, little hill village, insignificant Bethlehem. But our God and Father in heaven always does this: A virgin with child; a faithful husband with the proper blood lines; a difficult journey because of a census; choirs of heavenly hosts sing the great Good News to societies lowliest members, the shepherds. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51, 52).

King David no longer sat on his throne and his hometown was nearly forgotten in the Judean landscape. Yet the promise of salvation was not forgotten. “But our eyes in truth should see him through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heav’n above” (Once in Royal David’s City: 3). And lowly Bethlehem, poor and forgotten Bethlehem, is exalted and becomes again the hometown of Israel’s King, the long-expected King – Jesus Christ!

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel! (O Little Town of Bethlehem: 4)

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