If there is one thing we Australians are famous for, it’s chopping down anyone we consider to be getting just a bit too big for their boots. We tend to like everyone to be on a fairly level playing field and we don’t like people blowing their own trumpet or suggesting that they are a little better than someone else.
This “tall poppy syndrome” as it’s known, can be very unfair and even hurtful, but it can also produce some great humour as the following story shows:
An outback cattle station owner travelled to the big smoke for a holiday. Naturally, he drove down in the biggest vehicle he could find – a nice big Ford F250 Dual cab with a big V8 diesel motor and with all the bells and whistles. He was driving through the green dairy country in the hills just outside the city and he had to stop as the local dairy farmer’s cows crossed the road at milking time.
The cattleman called out to the dairy farmer, “How much land you got, mate?”
“Well,” the dairy farmer said, “my land runs all the way down there to those pines near the creek and right up to that line of gums on top of the ridge.”
“You know,” said the cattleman, “I’ve got a station in the outback, and I can get in my ute and drive all day without reaching any of my boundary lines.”
“Is that so?” said the dairy farmer. “I had a ute like that once.”
We don’t mind reminding people that we really are all the same and that no-one is better than anyone else in the overall scheme of things. I reckon that’s a good thing.
But at the same time, we still like to try to gain the upper hand over others. We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep people in their place – usually below us – especially if we have been a bit stirred up or angered by someone’s words or behaviour.
- The boss lets us have it when he hasn’t bothered to hear our side of what really went on.
- The kids try something on and we overreact by putting them in their place – maybe even unfairly.
- A friend lets some confidential information circulate and we repay in kind.
We have a bit of trouble as Christians understanding God’s perspective on who we are, what’s important, what’s our place, what is of big importance in the Christian life and what is of small importance.
Sometimes we hold the exact opposite point of view to God. What we value as being big and small, important and unimportant, highly valued and of no great value seems to be a lot different to what he regards as important, big, small, valued and so on.
Today’s first reading really brings out how differently God sees us in his overall plan of bringing all things to their fulfilment. God chooses what seems small to us to accomplish big things through us.
The prophet Micah proclaims the birth of a new ruler for God’s people and the whole world: he will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah. Now Ephrathah is in the general vicinity of Bethlehem. Ephrathah was originally a small Judahite clan. So, this locality or suburb of Bethlehem was small and of no great importance or power in terms of politics, military status, arts and culture or great in by any other measure we might put on towns and suburbs. It certainly was no Tokyo, Sydney, New York, Paris or London.
Bethlehem is now almost a suburb of Jerusalem. It is only about 8kms from the centre of Jerusalem. So, here we have this little location with a name derived from the local family that have lived there for generations within a suburb of Bethlehem, which is hugely overshadowed by the big smoke next door. We are talking small, small town. We are talking no outward importance as far as society sees things.
But of course, we know that God has a different understanding and approach to what is important and unimportant; what is big and what is small. We know that by God’s promise to the prophet Samuel, a long time before the prophet Micah ever spoke and a long time before anything big happened in small Bethlehem, God made a choice about this little place. He told his prophet Samuel to go to this little town and find a king. From this little place and this little family among all the big and powerful families of the country, God had chosen a new king to replace Saul.
Samuel obeyed the Lord and went to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse. Jesse made his 10 sons walk past Samuel so Samuel could find the one that the Lord had chosen to be King of the whole nation. There was one of Jesse’s sons missing that day. He was out in the paddock keeping the sheep. Samuel didn’t find God’s anointed king among the 10 big brothers. But when the youngest came in hot and sweaty from being out with the sheep all day, he was anointed to be king of Israel. His name was David and all of this happened in little Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16). Bethlehem became the birth-place of the King!
God chooses what seems small to accomplish his big things.
David became the greatest King, not in wealth, power or world status – his son Solomon really reached those pinnacles. David became King and was a “man after God’s own heart”. He sinned greatly but repented often and he put his trust in the Lord for his life. He wrote about it all in the psalms.
When those heady days of power and prestige ran out for the people of Israel, Bethlehem and indeed the whole nation of Israel were again nothing as far as the world was concerned. But again in the darkest days of God’s people, God chooses to do something big with something so small. He speaks another promise about little Bethlehem and this time God goes further than he did the first time he made a promise concerning Bethlehem.
Through Micah, God announces that there will come another King one day. He will be the ultimate King because he does not have his origins in a mere human family. He comes from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2).
He will be the one that the Lord spoke of way back in King David’s rule. God said through another of his prophets, the prophet Nathan, that one day there would be a king over Israel who will rule forever. God said to David that through this new king, not only God’s people would be blessed, but the whole world would be blessed because this new king – this new Messiah – would rule over every power and nation.
All this from a little place of no particular importance to anyone!
God chooses what seems small to accomplish big things.
We will celebrate the coming of this extraordinarily BIG king who comes in a very normal, small way in a few days time. This ultimate Power and Life of the universe from ancient days has come into the world in the same way that we human, limited, finite, fragile people all came into the world. God keeps his promises for 1000 years and turns up in a way that is everything opposite to what we might want him to be.
Our God always has been on about doing his big things in and through small things and small people. Think of Moses – a reluctant leader. Think of the prophets; Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah – all lived in weakness and powerlessness. Think of David – chosen so young. Think of Elizabeth and Mary – an elderly woman and a young girl who would be called “theotokos” (the bearer of God) by Christians for all generations!
Think of yourself. Where did you come from? What claim to God’s promises did you have? Why should he have chosen you to be a co-ruler with Christ in the world, for that is what you are in baptism? By what right of your own do sit at the Lord’s Table where you receive his love and grace and forgiveness in these ordinary looking but supernatural realities?
God chooses weak people, sinning people, blind people: all the “wrong” people to be with him. Praise the Lord! Because of his “upside down” ways we have life and a future in his big work of gathering all the other big and small people into his family.
Because of this, our future as God’s community in this little corner of the earth is secure. God has not stopped working with clay vessels. He remains the shepherd who stands, protects and feeds us with his love, grace, peace and power; as he speaks his Word and gives us his own body and blood that was born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem and raised to glory.
Like the people of Micah’s day, we are to wait for his coming. Like a pregnant woman, we wait for the coming of our king – just like Elizabeth and Mary had to wait for their two children of promise.
But as they waited together, they and the children in their wombs leapt for joy at the good news God promised. “I am here and I am coming again and there will be lasting peace in your lives and in my world”.
We wait in the struggle with joy at the news we have heard and upon which we pin our lives, and we pray – Come soon, Lord Jesus, come soon.