“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.”
When people meet me, they often think that I’m posh. I’m really not, though! When they discover that I was born in Redhill in Surrey, that often confirms to them that I must, in fact, be posh. Redhill, they reason, sounds very smart. They get a picture of a leafy market town perched on the top of a hill, full of large houses. They have an image of Redhill as a smart town in Surrey stockbroker belt. The reality is that Redhill is nothing like that. Whilst there are many posh towns in Surrey, Redhill is not one of them. Redhill does have a hill, but rather than being a green and leafy hill, is is home to several quarries and a large land fill site. The town centre of Redhill has lots of derelict shops and offices, and a rather grotty development built in the 1980s to try and brighten up the town. Redhill is very much the poor relation of the other Surrey towns! Despite this, Redhill still holds a special place in my heart, not just because it is the town of my birth, but because I have lots of friends from the town. Redhill therefore always reminds me of fun times and strong friendships. Whilst I would agree that Redhill is not a very nice town, what has come out of Redhill is very special to me.
Redhill reminds me a little of Bethlehem. There were some rather smart towns in Palestine, amongst the tribes of Israel, but Bethlehem certainly was not one of them! Like Redhill, it was rather unloved and a bit of a joke amongst those in the know. Despite this, Bethlehem was the place of birth of King David, who had played such a crucial role in the history of God’s people (see 1 Samuel 17:12). That’s not all, however! Despite the insignificance of Bethlehem, the prophet tells us in today’s verse that Bethlehem has been singled out as the place of birth of one “who will be ruler over Israel.” This ruler, though, is not going to be just any kind of ruler. This ruler comes from God – this ruler comes “for me!” Bethlehem might seem like a strange place for a ruler to be born, but it somehow fits in with the nature of Jesus, the promised messiah, that he was not born in a grand town or city, but in a small, insignificant and unloved town. It is actually the perfect place for the birth of a ruler who will challenge conceptions of power and prestige for all time. Jesus, after all, was not born in a great palace, but in a stable. He did not dwell in a magnificent house, but spent time roaming the countryside sharing God’s message of love and peace with all those whom he met.
Remember this Christmas as you reflect on the birth of Christ, then, and sing carols talking about Bethlehem, just how amazing it is that this small town was chosen to be the birth place of the messiah and saviour. Bethlehem very much set the tone for Jesus’ life, and should inspire us to live in a plain and humble way too.