I have no way of testing this proposition, but Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best-selling book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, says it’s true. Take a large piece of paper. Fold it in half. Then do it again, and again, and again, until you have folded that piece of paper fifty times. When finished, how tall do you think the final folded piece of paper will be?
The size of a telephone book? As thick as a mattress? As tall as a refrigerator? Not even close. Gladwell says the folded piece of paper would be as high as the distance from the earth to the sun – with only fifty folds. This is what mathematicians call “geometric progression.” I call it mind-boggling. Something that starts incredibly small, as it doubles upon itself, takes very little time to become something extraordinarily huge.
My father used to play a similar game with me when I was a boy. He would say to me, “What if I had four flat tires on my car, and I paid you to change them all for me. Which would you rather have: $10,000 or a dollar for the first lug nut, but I’ll double it every lug nut thereafter?”
I would always take the $10,000 and he would chuckle but never explain anything. I was much older before I realized that if I took the doubling dollar, at the end of the tire-changing session I would have much more than $10,000 – much more. So if you ever come across someone on the side of the road who happens to have four flat tires, and who happens to make such an offer, don’t take the lump sum.
Do you believe that little things matter? Sure you do. And more so than hypothetical paper folds and lug nuts. The microprocessors in our computers, the antibodies in our bloodstreams, the placement of a single decimal point or added zero on our bank statements, a single vote in a toss-up election. Oh yes, we believe little things matter.
What about a baby born on a cold night to a teenage mother and a handyman father? A child so insignificant and poor his cradle was a feed trough, his nursery smelled of cow manure, and his birthplace so far back in the sticks it was hardly on the map.
A child who spent his first years on the run from the government and who lived as an exile in a foreign country; a child who grew up in a place called Nazareth, a seedbed of good for nothings and losers, a place that produced nothing but insurrectionists and troublemakers.
Yet his child Jesus grew into the man who would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, overturn the religious establishment, and challenge the violent empire of his day with words of love, mercy, and justice.
For two millennia we have ordered our lives and our calendars around this little baby in the manger, his birth cleaving history in half. Love him, follow him, despise him, reject him, embrace him, or worship him: Any of these. But one thing is certain. No one can ignore him. He has turned the world inside out.
But for many of us, Jesus is much more than a miracle working prophet or a good man who embodies the highest human ideals. He is the One who revealed the true nature of God to creation, a God who gave himself over to killing, human hands, but triumphantly took his life up again in resurrection.
Many of us have heard this message of the crucified and risen God come to earth as Jesus of Nazareth, and God’s Spirit has exploded in our hearts. Our lives have been changed and faith has been born. Human history – and our own history – has been forever altered. And it all began with a single pregnancy, a simple birth, one child’s first cry in the dark, a baby in a manger. Do little things matter? You bet they do.