“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). It all comes wrapped in such a tiny package, this too-well-known story. Plain brown paper, tied in triple-twist twine. Check the return address, a little smudged, hard to make out. It reads Bethlehem, a town on the edge of nowhere, but also a city of kings. “The City of David”: David, the king of all kings.
And this little bundle of joy, who gurgled and burped and pooped and cried, just like any other baby, comes to you courtesy of two small-town types: A respected stone mason and a young girl with most of her life still in front of her. Why are they here in Bethlehem? They have come because another king has ordered families to their hometowns for a census counting. You understand leadership does this so they can know how much money they can count on in future days, right? “The king was in his counting house, counting out his money.” Not much has changed.
This little couple spends their holiday not in a hotel, not in a family residence, but in a cave — a ‘clean, well-lit place,” yes, but “far from the madd’ing crowd” and out of the rest of the world’s eyesight. The well-known manger was a stone feeding trough, btw. And so a new family’s story begins to unfold.
You see how small it all seems? How less than significant? That should serve as some comfort, especially if you have ever wondered at your own smallness in this vast cosmos. “Even these may forget, yet I will never forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.