“And you, Bethlehem… are by no means least”
Though small and suffering, we lack nothing
- Micah 5:2-5a, 7-8 - From you shall come forth … one who is to rule in Israel
- 1 Peter 2: 21-25 - Now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls
- Luke 12:32-40 - Do not be afraid, little flock
Today we consider why God chooses to act in and through seemingly insignificant places and people, and what God does with them. These are not new questions – in fact they are the favourite paradoxes of preachers in the Christmas and Epiphany seasons – yet they continue to challenge us. The prophet Micah speaks directly to Bethlehem and predicts its greatness as the home of the shepherd who will defend God’s people. The First Letter of Peter tells people who have already begun to identify Jesus Christ with the Messiah that he is the shepherd who willingly suffers to save the flock. The Gospel of Luke reassures the ‘little flock’ of Christ’s followers that they need have no fear, because God has promised them the Kingdom.
We receive these messages of consolation, directed to particular people at a particular time, in the context of our own concerns and longing for consolation. They invite us to take part in God’s transformation of inequality, violence and injustice, not to wait passively for these things to happen. They call on us to be politically aware; to be locally ready to make our churches little Bethlehems where Christ can be born in generosity and hospitality; to recognise ourselves as a ‘little flock’, unimportant perhaps in the world’s eyes, but with a value and a vocation in the great mystery of salvation.
the fragmentation of your ‘little flock’ grieves the Holy Spirit.
Forgive our weak efforts and slowness in the pursuit of your will.
Give us wise shepherds after your own heart
who recognise the sin of division,
and those who will lead the churches
with righteousness and holiness, to unity in you.
We ask you, Lord, to hear our prayer. Amen.
Every Sunday night, back in the day,
there we would be, my Dad and I, chanting:
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
(Well, in William Morgan’s words, more starkly.)
And then I learned
that this wasn’t about people, and sustenance, and things, and capital, and nowt,
that they were just symbols, spiritual things, nice.
Is God that thick?
- Global: This material was being prepared as violence once more raged in Jerusalem and Gaza. How can the worldwide Christian community best support those Christians who share this contested place to be light in its darkness, transformers of fear, agents of peace?
- Local: How might our local churches become “Bethlehems” – places where Christ can be born, welcomed and honoured?
- Personal: When have you recognised the life of God growing in people and places to which you have previously paid little attention?
Go and Do
Global: Visit Amos Trust (https://www.amostrust.org) to find out more about how to create peace with justice in the Middle East.
Local: Plan as churches together to pray for peace in the Middle East on the 24th of every month. You can use these resources from Christian Aid to aid your prayers - https://www.christianaid.org.uk/resources/worship/ecumenical-prayer-vigil-peace-gaza .
Personal: Bring the fears that keep you in division from other traditions before the Good Shepherd in prayer. Meditate on the words of the Good Shepherd – ‘do not be afraid, little flock.’