Christ’s birth reminds us that big things come in little packages
By Mike Spinelli
A tiny fist gripped my pinky over 16 years ago, and I was soon wrapped around her finger. Eighteen months later there was a new fist, but the experience was the same. From the day our daughters were born, we dreamed about their futures—their hopes, their dreams and their contributions to the world.
While we dreamed about the great things our daughters might do when they were older, could we have missed all the greatness that was in front of us already? All I needed to know about God’s great love, the greatness of his majesty and the miracle of life lay wrapped in a tiny baby.
As we enter into Advent and move toward Christmas, we revisit this reality again. In the baby Jesus all the fullness of the Deity was pleased to dwell. It wasn’t about who Jesus would become. It was all about who Jesus was in the form of a servant babe in the manger. And that is how God seems to work most often, not just at Christmas. It pleases the Lord to take the small and seemingly inconsequential and to do big things. He doesn’t necessarily make the small into something great. He rather lets the small thing remain small and does something incredible in the smallness.
Consider the promise the Lord made to Bethlehem, the home of David who slew the great giant when he was a youth and grew to be the archetype of the kings of Israel. When Judah was threatened with certain destruction, the Lord promised through Micah that he would rescue the nation. If this promise raised the nation’s hope, the place their leader would come from raised their eyebrows.
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV, emphasis added).
Bethlehem was backwoods. It did not rate a dot on the map, a zip code or a sentence in the travel guide. The Lord declared the village was so small it did not rate its own entry in the clan listing of the nation. Yet from this city would come the one to lead his people, a promise declared from old about one who lived before the world was born.
We know from the Gospels that the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of this promise and would grow to be Messiah. We know he would make the supreme sacrifice through his death and give us supreme hope through his resurrection. Yet, his existence as a baby was great in and of itself. A handful of people understood this from the beginning. Foreign seers adored him, a threatened king tried to kill him and two wise and faithful seniors saw in the baby all the hope their nation was seeking.
“The day of small things”
Micah was not the only prophet to proclaim the message that small was great to God. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah had their hands full motivating the newly returned exiles to build the temple and to not give up under the pressure of their enemies. The people thought it was not a good time to build the temple. Though they laid its foundation, what they started seemed insignificant to them. Certainly they could use their time more wisely than rebuilding something that would be less glorious than it used to be.
Haggai pushes a few buttons. “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it as nothing in your eyes?” (Haggai 2:3, ESV, emphasis added). The Lord promised to take their effort of rebuilding and “fill this house with glory” (Haggai 2:7, ESV). The Lord was going to use something seemingly paltry to do great things for his name’s sake.
Zechariah echoed that theme when the Lord told him that Zerubbabel laid the foundation of the temple and his hands would complete it. As a word of caution, the Lord told Zechariah, “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel” (Zech. 4:7, ESV, emphasis added). Though the people looked at the temple and thought it was so small—not worth the effort to rebuild it—the Lord surprised them. He took their effort and filled it with his glory. Something great was going to be packaged in something small.
It pleases God to package greatness in small things and to bring greatness out of tiny places. To what does Jesus compare the kingdom of God? He points to a mustard seed barely visible on the tip of his finger. He talks about a little yeast making lots of flour ready for baking. He uses a small boy’s lunch to feed thousands.
Great things from our midst
He still brings great things out of the small places in our midst.
My friend Steve grew up in the Carson MB Church of Delft, Minn. This church no longer gathers for worship, but from its place off the beaten path that congregation impacted the world for God’s kingdom by sending out around 200 full-time Christian workers as pastors and missionaries. Carson MB, though you were small among the churches of the Brethren, from you came people who made a kingdom difference in Minnesota, North America and the world.
Hannah served in Central Asia on a short-term mission. She told me how small she felt in that land. How could she make a difference in such a short time? On their last night, Hannah’s team met with a group of girls with whom they had spent time living and laughing. One of these girls said that this small team HAD to come back because they showed these girls true love. If they did not come back, they all needed to go somewhere in the world and show the same love to someone else. Hannah, though you and your team were small with little language skills and little time, from you came love and peace and the message of the kingdom to Central Asia. We have yet to see what all will come from it. From what you shared, your small gift carried greatness in it.
My then-elementary school daughter wanted to learn how to play guitar for worship. Soon, four other kids wanted to join in. The group grew to include 25 elementary, middle school and high school students learning together. They are all still young, yet they are using their gifts and skills now. Almost all of them lead worship in their various church youth groups or have been integrated into their Sunday morning worship teams. A group of siblings formed a band that sings Christian music at two pizza parlors in their city. Both of my daughters now lead other students in worship and prayer on their high school campus. You students, though you are young and are still learning and growing, even now praise and witness comes from you and will bring comfort, peace and joy to others as you use your gifts to spread the good news of Christ in the world.
Society awaits the next big thing. We long for breakthroughs that are life-altering. Even at Christmas, we wonder what can top last year’s festivities. Could it be that, this year, something small will top them all? By all means, rejoice and be glad with all your heart and soul. The Good Word has taken on flesh and moved in next door.
May this be a year of small things that take our breath away. May it be so because we see the great gifts God has wrapped in the small things around us, and we have made our eyes able to see them revealed.
What "small greatness" story – times when you have seen great things come from something small – do you have to share?
Mike Spinelli is a 1995 graduate of MB Biblical Seminary, now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, and pastored in San Jose, Calif., and Eugene, Ore., and is currently the choir director at Bethany MB Church, Fresno, Calif. Some of the inspiration for this article came from conversations with members of the North Fresno MB Church family, where the Spinelli family had been attending.