The coming of the Messiah seems to be so small, so little, that it is breathtaking when you recognize the truth of the incarnation as God’s majesty coming to live among lost humanity. God chose to be born as an infant among us, one like any other, the Messiah Jesus coming as a baby boy to a world so rough and cruel. He was a child utterly dependent upon his parents for his care and sustenance. He was so small, so little.
Bethlehem, far from a city, was itself a small, insignificant town. The prophet Micah tells us that the Messiah would be born in “Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah.” Ephrathah is here associated with a region or clan of Judah, which is itself designated as “little.” Micah, however, promises that from this town “shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days,” a messianic prediction from the little town that also gave to us Jesse and his son King David.
The smallness of it all extends to the mother of Jesus, Mary, a young woman or girl. In antiquity girls and women were accounted as small in many ways, but she is called to be the mother of the Lord. We also encounter here the vulnerability of women in antiquity, for there is another mother associated with Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who faced the reality of ancient childbirth. In Genesis 35, Rachel, a wife of Jacob, went into “hard labor” after they had left Bethel, and while her son Benjamin survived childbirth, Rachel did not: “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Gn 35:19–20).
Women knew the reality of childbirth and the vulnerability of womanhood, so Mary does not run to priests, scribes or scholars, to tell of her encounter with God but to her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth was open to God and “filled with the Holy Spirit” said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary and Elizabeth, shocked and startled as they might have been that God was working through them, were nonetheless open to God in them and among them.
God came into the world as an infant; and the Incarnation was entrusted to women, who would not only bring the child to us but care for him among us. They were willing to see and embrace the smallness of us all in light of God’s mighty work. They were open to the love necessary and due to any child and open to God’s saving power in their midst. The Messiah was entrusted to the natural processes of human life, in the most vulnerable of hands, in the most vulnerable of ways, so that God’s glory and salvation would not overwhelm us, but accompany us in solidarity with the suffering of all of us small and little people, in order to teach us the value of human life and the greatness of each of life. By each of her actions, Mary is telling us: Prepare to adore him.
For this is how God chose to come, not had to come, to humanity. From a human point of view, the Incarnation is a crazy plan, choosing people too little and too vulnerable. But as a result, it is the best for us: being born among us, being raised among us, he came as one of us, but as God among us, he shone a light on our true dignity and God’s might in humility.
In this way, says the prophet Micah, the Messiah would “stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” By allowing us to embrace our littleness, our smallness and vulnerability, God also allows us to grasp our eternal value. For the Messiah, Jesus Christ, born as a little one to protect and save us, is here to manifest God’s greatness and majesty for all people. No one is too little, too small, too insignificant to share in God’s plan. He comes to share God’s love for us. Oh come, let us adore him.