Roaring Camp, Micah 5:2–5a, Third Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2018
It was nothing more than a collection of miners’ shacks, a general store, and a half dozen shanty saloons, where the rough-and-tumble men of the 1849 Gold Rush spent their leisure time. It was called Roaring Camp. Bret Harte wrote about it a hundred years ago. He told of a degenerate woman named Cherokee Sal, the only woman in the camp, who became pregnant and bore a child out of wedlock. Harte wrote, “The situation was novel. Deaths were by no means uncommon in Roaring Camp, but a birth was a new thing” (The Luck of Roaring Camp).
The mother did not survive the hardships of the camp’s primitive conditions. The child, however, became the darling of every miner there. Despite everything, the child thrived. With a store-bought crib, and the desire for cleanliness around the infant, the miners determined that the nursery room itself had to be improved and provided better furniture. Personal cleanliness was required throughout the settlement. If any person hoped to hold the baby, they had to get close enough to soap and water first. And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp. Almost gradually the change came over the settlement.
Each act of cleanliness exposed that much more dirt and filth in the vicinity, so that new measures were taken to keep an ever-wider expanse of the camp clean. Since the baby needed rest, the camp became quieter and more dignified, less noisy and boisterous, no longer the Roaring Camp of the story’s title. The presence of that tyke changed it forever.
Bethlehem was never large, but it had historical importance as the birthplace of David, Israel’s greatest king. Never known as a roaring camp, it was a little city that God endowed with a large mission. There a Baby was born in that little town that still thrills us. There, also, the neighbors took to Him immediately. The shepherds came to see this Child the angels sang about, but what a Child they saw! One can imagine that relatives eventually came to see Him also. Wise Men of the east traveled miles to see Him. Herod’s soldiers journeyed six miles or so, stalking infants for the king’s slaughter. But Jesus would do more than survive. He would live to change the world.
Centuries before, Micah foretold that Bethlehem’s Child would be a ruler. His origin would be from ancient times, he said. “And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” promised that messenger of God (5:4-5a).
God does things like that. He takes the obscure and makes them great. He empowers the insignificant with importance. Paul wrote, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,… And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” You are in Christ Jesus, emphasized the apostle. (1 Cor 1:27–28, 30)
In the annals of Hebrew history, Bethlehem was not as important as Bethel, Shiloh, Hebron, or even Jerusalem, yet it became mightier than any of them in the plans of God. There Boaz fell in love with Ruth, and Samuel anointed David. But these events pale before the majestic event of God’s incarnation in the person of Christ.
Micah lived in the time of Isaiah and Hosea, eight centuries before Jesus was born. Yet God gave Micah a glimpse of the future, a peek at the place where our redemption would begin, where the regeneration of the world would start. He provided a little town with a gigantic forecast that enabled Jews and Gentiles alike to discover the Christ. After all, it was this passage in Micah that Herod’s advisers cited in telling the Wise Men to go to Bethlehem to see “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt 2:2).
David was but a shepherd, yet God made him a king. Abraham before him was just another resident of Ur, but God called him forth and made of him and his descendants what he had promised, a mighty nation! Mary was an obscure peasant girl, yet God made her His servant. Joseph was an unknown carpenter, but God enabled him to guard Jesus from the Infant’s foes like a general with a holy task. God transforms the small and insignificant into an implement of His power.
Baptism is but a splash of water with a few words, yet God the Holy Spirit sweeps into the life of the baptized and makes them members of His family. This event takes but a few moments, yet its impact is eternal. Sinners also become saints; the condemned are saved! It has far more than the U.S. government behind it, for it has within it, the might of the triune God and the power of Heaven.
God took that little city of Bethlehem and provided it a great mission for the people of Israel, as the birthplace of the Messiah. In turn, Jesus became the greatest Gift for the benefit of the whole universe for all time. In ever widening ripples, regeneration has spread forth from Bethlehem even farther than cleanliness did from the crib of Cherokee Sal’s baby.
Bethlehem represents what God can do with the small and unimportant. Where would the Reformation have gone without an obscure monk named Luther? We would be the poorer had not God empowered an orphan named Bach to make the pipe organ thunder with thrilling music!
Inventive minds, creative souls, caring hearts, all emanate from God. An acorn is minuscule until it grows into a gigantic oak. You may be small and unimportant in the scheme of Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue, yet under God you may be a little Bethlehem, a gift from heaven that will change part of the world.
God took another tiny village and made of it the boyhood home of the world’s greatest Resident. People disdained it. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” asked a skeptical Nathanael (Jn 1:46). You know the answer! It was little more than a tiny-known fishing village, but Jesus turned it into His headquarters, and it has been renowned ever since.
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” asked the disciples (Mt 18:1). Jesus set a child in the midst of the group and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The humble are candidates for God’s awesome force.
Because of Jesus Christ, you and I need never despair, for under the power of the Holy Spirit He makes the humble great, if not in this world, certainly in eternity.
Always remember that the little city and its large mission to regenerate a people is not just an adventure of the past. It’s a true story for you and me right now! Let God-in-Christ enable you to, not only give you a thrill and a chill, but also share with the world a joy it won’t soon forget. God can make the insignificant great, and He can do that even with you and me! Amen.