Little Things in the Christmas Story
sermon preached by Dr. Jack Hyles
“Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12.
One hardly travels through Italy, and especially Rome, without being impressed with the great Michelangelo. I came away from Rome a real fan of his. One day he was working on a painting. A friend noticed the painting. Days passed. The person returned. He noticed that no progress has been made. He asked of Michelangelo: “Why haven’t you been working on the painting?”
The great artist replied, “I’ve been working day and night on it.”
“Well, what have you been doing? I can see no changes or additions whatsoever.”
Michelangelo replied, “I worked on a finger of a person for a day. I worked on the lobe of an ear for a little bit. I worked on a wrinkle of a face some.”
The person asked this question, “Why do you spend so much time on trifles?”
The great painter answered, “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”
Don’t forget that: “Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.”
It is interesting, I think, how that God chose in telling the greatest story the world has ever known a series of little incidents, little things, little tasks, little people, and little places to give us the story of Christ’s coming into the world. You could not read the account in Luke without being impressed with the fact that there is nothing here that man calls bigness.
There were many big men and many wealthy men in Palestine at this time. There were scholars of the most profound and various learnings at the greatest of universities. There were aesthetics who had left the joys of home to live in the deserts, to fast and to pray, and to give themselves to religious exercise. Yet it was not to them that the angels appeared. Their ears did not hear the “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” God, in His wisdom, did not choose to send the angels to sing the message to those who taught in the universities, or to the learned, or to those aesthetics who dwelt to fast and pray on deserts. The greatest news that the world has ever heard was heard by simple shepherds, little men, little people. Great men were passed by and little men heard the story.
The eyes of great, noble, wealthy people were not blinded by the stars and by the light from Heaven, but the eyes of shepherds. The ears of great men did not hear the angels say, “Fear not,” and a multitude of Heavenly hosts singing in the Heavens. God chose to appear to simple shepherds. Little people, if you please.
One of these elite was not chosen to carry the babe in her womb. It was not a fashionable, wealthy, or learned lady of Nazareth or Palestine that was chosen to carry the Christ Child in the womb. It was given to a simple Mary, a poor girl of Nazareth, to do so.
None of these men were chosen to head the home in which the Christ Child would be reared. That was left to an humble carpenter.
It’s always this way in the Bible. For the Lord says in I Corinthians 1:27, 28, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” One of the most encouraging things of the Bible is that God uses little people to do big tasks. Be encouraged, little people. God uses us. Be encouraged, unlearned people, God uses us.
Who killed Goliath? It was little David from the back side of the desert. Who defeated the Midianites, using 300 men? Was it a man from a university? Was it a man from the West Point of the day? It was little Gideon, who was called while hiding behind a winepress threshing wheat. He was the runt kid of the runt family of the runt tribe of the runt nation of the world. God chose him to lead the army and put to flight the enemy of God’s people.
Who led the Israelites out of bondage toward the Promised Land across the Red Sea upon dry ground? Who was it that went up on Mt. Sinai and received the instructions for the tabernacle and the tablets of stone on which were engraved the laws of God? Who was it? It was a boy who was placed in an ark and placed in the Nile River by a poor, humble slave mother, Jochebed.
Who sent Naaman to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy? Was it some fashionable friend, some delightful, educated, well-versed friend of the family? No, a little maid said, “If you can get to Elisha, he can take care of you.”
The entire Christmas story and all the Bible reminds us that God uses little people. God uses them to do big things.
Who gave food to feed the five thousand? Was it a restaurant who catered to the feeding of the multitudes? Was it the outstanding caterer of the day or the outstanding chef who had the best cuisine? No, a little boy with a lunch basket of five loaves and two fishes gave it to God, Jesus blessed it, and God again used little people.
Who rimmed the Mediterranean Sea with the Gospel? Who took the Gospel from Jerusalem and all around Asia and then to Europe, and turned the known world upside down for God? Was it a man of wealth and fame? No, it was a little Jew with a small physique and bad eyes. God uses little people.
Who was it who saw the resurrected Christ in His glory on that Easter morning, when “Up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes”? Who saw Him first? Some queen from palatial surroundings? Some princess with beautiful garments? No, it was a woman once possessed with seven devils, even Mary Magdalene.
Who was it that was chosen as an object lesson of greatness by Jesus? Was it a king from a palace? No. The captain of an army? No. A statesman from a desk? No. A wealthy man from the conference room? No. Who was it chosen as the greatest of all? Jesus took a little child and put the child in the midst of them and said, “Here is the greatest of all.” When He decided to name the greatest, what did He name? A king, a businessman, a rich man, a wealthy man, a great statesman? No, He said the servant is the greatest of all.
So it was in the Christmas story: Mary, Simeon, Anna, the shepherds, Zacharias. It doesn’t read like a hall of fame. God uses the common people. He uses little people.
Here is your chance, my dear friend. God wants to use you. But you say, “Preacher, I’m the one my family would say would be the least one to succeed.” So was David. You say, “But I can’t even talk well.” Neither could Moses. But you say, “Preacher, you don’t understand. I’m just a little runt.” So was Paul. But you say, “Preacher, I’m not well.” Neither was Timothy. But you say, “Preacher, I don’t have the gifts of the ministry. I don’t have any education or training.” Neither did the Apostle Peter. I am simply saying that God in His wisdom has chosen to use the little people.
When God shook our nation, He used “Crazy Moody.” God. used a Billy Sunday, who threw away his baseball glove, put away his spikes, went to the Pacific Garden Mission, stumbled in a drunken bum and came out a transformed child of God. When God decides to shake a world, He doesn’t always go to the seminary and take the Ph.D. He doesn’t always go to the college and take the learned people. God has a wonderful way of using the simple to confound the wise.
Little people, here’s your chance. (By the way, this is your only chance.) God can use little people.
Len G. Broughten, the pastor of the largest church in Georgia, weighed less than a hundred pounds. Once he was in a debate with a famous man. The famous man became angry, for it was obvious that he was losing the debate. He shouted, “You little runt, I’ll-I ought to chew you up and swallow you.”
Len G. Broughton got up and said, “If you did chew me up and swallow me, you’d have more brains in your stomach than you do in your head.”
God uses little people. He sometimes uses people without much training. He sometimes uses people without much talent. Then He can get the glory. So in the Christmas story, God uses little people.
Now there were palaces of beauty and splendor in Palestine. There were great universities. There were great estates in which were the most plush furnishings. There were nice hotels for the wealthy. There were plush homes with elaborate decor. Yet when
our Lord came to the world, He did not come to such surroundings. He came in a manger in Bethlehem.
The Last Supper was held in a borrowed room. For Pentecost the 120 met in an upper room. The five thousand were fed on a hillside. King David was found in the field. Gideon was found behind the winepress, hiding. The Son of God was buried in a borrowed sepulchre. Many of the epistles of Paul were written in a dungeon. Moses saw the burning bush on a desert. PILGRIM’S PROGRESS was written in jail by John Bunyan on milk bottle stoppers. Moody was discovered in a shoe store. That means that in your house there could be one of the great preachers of the day. That little person you’re rocking in your crib may be a Moody. That little girl you tuck in tonight may be a Deborah.
I’m saying that when God chooses a great leader, He doesn’t always go to the palaces of Egypt. He often goes to the bulrushes of the Nile River. He goes to an ark, dabbed with pitch and mud.
Blessed be God! God can use you, and God wants to use you. “But I’m little,” you say. God uses little people. “But I’m unlearned.” God uses unlearned people. “But I’m not very smart!” God uses dumb people.
Angels did not sing to Bethlehem’s elite. They sang to shepherds in a field of a Child in a manger. God appears in humble places. He appeared to shepherds in the field, to Stephen outside the gate, to Jacob walking down a lonely road, to the children in a fiery furnace, to John on Patmos, to Peter on a rooftop. Our Lord uses little places.
No place in the Bible do we find this taught more plainly than in the story of Bethlehem’s manger. Oh, today, in your place, in your house, you may have a great preacher. In your house you may have a great missionary. I’ve come to the place in my life where I never discount a person who walks down the aisle of our church; I never do.
In a little apartment somewhere, where a family tries to make ends meet may come the next Moody. Some of you mothers, God bless you, who are rearing children by yourself, husbands have left you, and you have to pay all the bills and make all the living, and you get up early in the morning to go to work, you get up before the sun is up, before it’s daylight, you wonder if it’s worth it. You come home at night and have to clean and cook and there’s no husband to come home. You have to be the mother and the father too. You have to pay all the bills and make ends meet.
You have to train the children and at the same time try to make a living. At times you feel you’ll throw up your hands in desperation and say, “Is it worth it?” Yes, it’s worth it. Say, that’s usually where God goes to get His Gideons, His Elishas, and His Elijahs. That’s where He usually goes-little places, if you please.
In your Sunday school classroom there may be a great preacher. In your classroom there may be a boy who is wiggling now and won’t listen now. He may be the one to lead in building America’s next great work or in leading America toward God. He may be a Moody who will shake two continents. Who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
Years ago a simple country preacher resigned his church in failure and he said to his deacons, “Only one convert this year, and that was just wee Bobby Moffat, just a little boy.”
The deacons said, “Pastor, we hate to see you go, but we have had a bad year. It’s been a failure as far as the year is concerned: we’ve only had one convert. That is wee Bobby Moffat.”
The pastor did resign. What the pastor did not know and what the deacons did not know was that wee Bobby Moffat was to grow up to become one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen. Who knows, tonight, which girl in your class will be the Florence Nightingale of the future? Who knows but that the next Billy Sunday may be sitting in your Sunday school class next Sunday morning? God uses little people and He uses little places.
He used a manger and swaddling clothes. When Christ came into the world, He did not come to a hospital maternity ward. He did not come as a child in palatial surroundings, but He came in a manger, in swaddling clothes, in a stable. This is the way it always is. When God chooses to do something, He uses little things. What did He use to feed the five thousand? Five loaves and two fishes. What did He give to Shamgar when he defeated the Philistines and killed six hundred of them? An ox goad. What did God give to Moses with which to part the Red Sea? A golden rod or a magic wand? No, just an old shepherd’s rod.
God doesn’t need anything big. God needs yielded little things. When God chose to call Moses, did he use a neon sign? No, a burning bush. What did God use to restore sight? Did He use penicillin? No, He used some mud. What did God use to turn the water into wine? Did He use some beautiful vessels from the palace or from the temple? No, He used some discarded old vessels found beside the road. God uses little things. He upholds the sparrows wings; He paints the lily of the field. He numbers the hairs of the head. Scientists tell us that the smallest insect under the microscope that cannot be seen with the naked eye, is just as complete as God’s biggest creatures. God is just as careful when He makes the little insect as He is when He makes the biggest of His creatures. God is concerned about little things.
But you say, “I don’t have much.” Well, you don’t need much. So you’re not very smart? You don’t have to be very smart. So you’re not very big? You don’t have to be very big.
When the Christ Child came to the world and God became flesh, or, how big it was! There was nothing in the world so big as this. Never had a transaction transpired like this one. Here is the preexistent God becoming flesh. Now there’s a way to Heaven; now here’s the Saviour coming with the best news the world has ever known.
God used a little town called Bethlehem, some poor shepherds in the fields watching their flocks by night; a poor little girl in Nazareth (so poor that when she took Jesus to the temple, she couldn’t bring a lamb: she brought two turtle doves); a poor carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.
He could have preached a Sermon on the Mount every morning, if He had so chosen. Each night, He could have settled a stormy sea, had He so desired. At noon each day, He could have ascended into Heaven and been back before sundown, and let all the people see Him in His glory of His transfigured beauty, had He so desired. He could have, at Pilate’s Hall, been transfigured into His glorified body, had He so chosen. But our Lord always took care of the little tasks.
Someone asked me to write an article about something in Dr. John R. Rice’s life that shows his greatness. I wrote this story:
I was preaching in Dallas, Texas. Suddenly I felt a draft across the pulpit. I noticed that there was a door open on my left. I said, “Someone close the door, please. There’s a draft. I’ll be hoarse in a few minutes.” Nobody moved. I said, “Some ushers, please close the door.” Nobody moved. Then I said, “Would some body please close the door.” Suddenly the great Dr. Rice, sitting on the front, stood to his feet, humbly, carefully, gently, walked over to the door, and closed it. Then he came back and had a seat.
I stopped and said, “You have just seen an example of the greatness of John R. Rice.”
Our Lord was always concerned with the little tasks. On the cross, here is God, paying the price for our sin. On the cross, here is the Son of God, forsaken by the Father, and crying, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” The heavens shake and the earth quakes, the sun blushes and the moon is turned black. The graves in Jerusalem have been opened. What does Jesus take time to do? He says, “John, take care of Mother for me.” He said, “Mama, John is going to take care of you. `Behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother.”
It is interesting that on the first Easter morning, when the grave was opened and Christ the Son of God became a victor over Satan and sin and death and the grave, He took time to fold His garments and lay them in order before leaving the tomb. A little thing, yes, but important to God.
There was never, never anything too small for Christ. I say that the little thing may be beneath you, but diligence is not beneath you. A task may be little, but diligence is not little. So to be diligent on a little task is wise. If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Say, what’s your job? Teaching a Sunday school class? Jesus did the little tasks well. What’s your job? Taking care of the nursery? Then you be the best nursery caretaker in the country. Jesus did the little jobs well. What’s your job? Taking care of the ushers? Then you do it better than anybody in the country does it. Jesus took care of little tasks, and He did them properly. What’s your job? A secretary in a department? Then do it well. Jesus took time to do little jobs well. What’s your job? A superintendent of a department? Then do it well. Jesus took time to do the little tasks well. What’s your job? Sweeping out the building? Then do it well. Jesus took time to do the little jobs well. What’s your job? Typing letters? Then do it well. Jesus took time to do little jobs well. Say, what’s your job? Singing in the choir? Then do it well.
The Christmas story is built around little people who were in little places who did little tasks with little things. The Christian religion has been built around little people in little places who do little tasks with little things and do them well.
This is illustrated so beautifully in the Passover. The lamb was slain, and the blood was placed on the doorposts and lintel. The death angel passed over and the firstborn was taken in every home where the blood was not applied. God told them to use a hyssop weed with which to apply the blood. Now, the hyssop weed was everywhere. It was a little field weed. God did not require some beautiful flower, a Rose of Sharon or a lily of the valley. No, just a hyssop weed. That little hyssop weed, in the hands of a person, applied the blood on the doorpost and on the lintel.
If you’re not saved, the smallest thing you can do is the greatest thing you can do. Men, like Naaman of old, have been trying to use far better rivers than the River Jordan, ever since that day. What? Faith?
“No, sir, I’ll keep the Ten Commandments and be good and get to Heaven.”
No, you’ll die and go to hell unless you have faith in Jesus Christ. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll live a good life, and give to the poor, and I’ll earn my way to Heaven.”
No, you won’t. Like Cain of old, you’ll find yourself in hell because you brought the fruit of your own labors and not the blood of an innocent sacrifice.
“What? Just faith?”
Like people have said so often: “Brother Hyles, you make it too easy.”
No, I didn’t make it easy at all. God made it easy.
The whole truth is simply this: Yield yourself and God can use you to do great things. Do you own a fish market? Then let God have it; He can feed thousands. Do you have only two fish? Let God have them: He can feed five thousand. Do you have a bakery? Let God have it. If you have just five loaves, let God have that too. Do you own a place that makes sceptres-royal sceptres to be held in the hands of kings and queens? Give to God. If all you have is a walking stick, give it to God.
Could I ever forget, when I enrolled in college in Arlington, Texas? I walked through the door of the dean’s office and said, “Dean, my name is Jack Hyles.”
And he said, “What course do you want to take here?” I said, “I’m studying to be a preacher.”
“Why,” he said, “you don’t strike me as being the type.”
“I’m not.” I said, “I’ve come to ask you a personal favor. I’m going to be a preacher and I flunked public speaking in high school. I can’t make a talk. I’ve preached one sermon; it lasted three minutes.”
He said, “What do you need?”
I said, “Will you let me take three courses in public speaking and two courses in speech in one year?”
“Why,” he said, “that’s irregular.”
“Well, I’m an irregular kind of student. I need some help. I want to be a preacher.” I began to cry, and my lips began to quiver, as I said, “But I want to be a preacher and I can’t make a speech.” I said, “Could I take it-three courses of speech?”
I was just a stuttering, stumbling, timid introvert. I can still recall going home at night, and after everybody was in bed, I’d lie on the bed, and hang my head over the end of the bed, and go, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, haw, haw, haw, haw, haw, he, he, he, he, he, he, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey,” as I learned how to use the diaphragm instead of the muscles of the throat. I didn’t know it then, but God was getting me ready to preach three sermons a day; I have for almost sixteen years now and seldom have voice trouble. Do you know why? Because God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise.
I can still see my professor saying, “Mr. Hyles, you’ll never make it. You’ll never make it.” He’d say, “O.K., quote this poem.” It was some poem, you know, like “Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere …:’
He’d say, “Put something into it!”
And I’d say, “Mary….”
“Put some feeling into it!”
“Put some expression into it!”
I’d work by the hours, and he’d say, “You’ll never make it.” But God doesn’t need a great eloquent speaker. He just needs a dedicated little fellow.
Do you have much? Then give God much. But if all you have is a little, then give God a little. Let Him have it all. A little thing? Little talents? You live in a little apartment? A little bit of furniture? An old car? Shabby clothes? Not much education? Not much talent? Not much success so far? (Joseph wasn’t exactly the biggest contractor in Nazareth either, and the shepherds weren’t exactly the owners of the biggest packing houses in Palestine. They were just shepherds watching their flocks by night.)
Do you have a little talent? Let God have it. Do you have little things? Let God have them. Are you a little person? Let God have yourself. Are you in a little place? Then believe God can use you.
He can and He will.