by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Recently the Church Of God In Christ denomination held its 103rd “holy convocation” at the America’s Center convention space in St. Louis. (For you Methodists, like me, think in terms of General Conference.) This Memphis, TN based, black Pentecostal denomination rarely holds its convocation outside Memphis. I was working nearby and saw some of the traffic. Specifically, I saw buses from a couple of churches. Not vans or converted school buses, big Greyhound-size buses. A couple of buses I got a good look at were from Adams Memorial Church in Flint, MI and Mt. Calvary Church in Harrisburg, PA. Clearly, these must be huge churches with large congregations and substantial financial resources.
I confess that I was momentarily jealous of these churches and their apparent success. But there’s something to be said for a smaller, “cozy” church. Plus, I admit that I like being a (relatively) big fish in a small pond. If we were a large church, there would probably be several people who could play guitar, or write songs or newsletter articles, probably better than I can, and I might not get the same opportunities. Similarly, I’ve seen other folks “blossom” here at Maplewood UMC.
The story of Christ’s coming is the story of “little people” in “little towns.” Jesus wasn’t born to a king and queen or a prince and princess. He was born to a carpenter and an ordinary young woman. Mary’s prayer on hearing the news that she would bear God’s only child, often called “The Magnificat,” is filled with references to her humble state: “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. . . . he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;” (Luke 2:48a, 52 ESV). She and Joseph were both descendants of King David but neither was high or mighty.
Similarly, Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace, was David’s home town but beyond that it wasn’t much. Certainly it wasn’t anything like Jerusalem. Even today, Bethlehem has a population of about 30,000 and at that time its population was about a tenth of that. My own home town of Centralia, IL proudly proclaims that it is the “home town of James Brady.” Brady is best known as the former Press Secretary to the late President Ronald Reagan, who was permanently disabled during an assassination attempt on the President. But frankly, the town isn’t much, as some of you who have been there can attest, and it never was. Mary and Joseph’s home town of Nazareth was a moderate sized town, several times larger than Bethlehem, but still not especially impressive. When Philip the disciple told his brother Nathanael about Jesus, Nathanael replied, “‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” (John 1:46b ESV). Apparently, Nazareth was not held in high regard.
Likewise, the first people to hear about Jesus’ birth weren’t kings or princes, not rich or mighty, but poor, humble shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). Personally, I suspect “important” people would have said to themselves, “Wow! I must really be special. God told me first!” The shepherds, though, focused on Jesus, and they “. . . returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,” (Luke 2:20b ESV). Like Mary, they knew they were nobody special, and that Jesus was.
Over half a century after Jesus’ birth, Paul would write, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (1 Cor. 1:26 ESV). I don’t know about you but I can relate to Paul’s words. Not wise, not powerful, not of noble birth? Sure sounds like me. Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must love the common man, he made so many of them.” I have my talents, I have my moments, but really I’m not particularly special. Fortunately, that’s just who God is seeking. Jesus told his followers to go to
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:5-7 ESV.)