Bible Reading Micah 5:2-4
The joy and love of God’s companionship and care in Christ was seen by the prophet Micah when he wrote:
Bethlehem Ephrath, you are one of the smallest towns in the nation of Judah. But the Lord will choose
one of your people to rule the nation —a someone whose family goes back to ancient times. The
Lord will abandon Israel only until this ruler is born, and the rest of his family returns to Israel.
Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep, this ruler will lead and care for his people by the power
and glorious name of the Lord his God. His people will live securely, and the whole earth will
know his true greatness, (CEV)
Message Welcome the Coming Child-King Micah 5:2-4, Luke 1:39-55
It is around 700 BC. The people’s present predicament is that the Assyrians are invading Jerusalem by siege, which means they are surrounding them and walling them off from any potential help and resources to survive. Their king -- the Hebrew word Micah uses here is literally “judge” as in those early judges like Samson and Gideon and Deborah. Charismatic, powerful leaders who rose up and saved the people. He uses that word to emphasize the contrast between those early leaders and the current king who is being humiliated by the enemy -- weak, embarrassing, who can’t even save himself, much less the people. The choice of Hebrew words may also imply that the people were so desperate resorted to slashing themselves like Baal worshipers thinking that the severity of their laments may save them.
What needs do you see? What hope can you offer?
Who around us is hurting? isolated? spiritually hungry? unable to receive help or help themselves?
Micah is called to deliver God’s message of hope. This sad state of affairs doubt and despair will continue only until -- let’s break it down with original definitions.
Bethlehem Out of the small town (small not meaning little in population or size as much as meaning trifling or insignificant). Out of this small town of Bethlehem (Jerusalem was too big, too worldly, too corrupt to produce a noble king)
Ruler from ancient (good) days Out of this small town there will be born, by contrast to their day’s useless, corrupt leadership, a ruler whose heritage traces back to ancient days. That is the days of creation and Adam in the garden prior to the fall -- when God and his people were purely connected as one -- and then over the centuries, as best they could, that heritage is honed and clarified through the institution of kingship, and the example par excellence that they had to date was king David, and so it was from the town of David and the strong line of David and be a leader like David that this strong idealized king would be born.
People will return to God’s family After his arrival, those in exile, those who were scattered; for us -- those who have been disconnected from God will return to him -- and they will dwell secure, like sheep with a Good Shepherd.
New powerful kingdom because God’s chosen one will rule in the name and glory and strength of the Lord and there will be a new beginning for the great kingdom of God which will extend to the ends of the earth!
Matthew (See 2:5-7) applies this prophecy to the birth of Jesus, which he sees as world-changing. In fact, he deliberately misquotes Micah to reflect this new view -- Bethlehem is longer insignificant among the clans, but is by no means the least among Judah, because Jesus’ birth so transforms life that he has put his hometown “on the world map” so to speak.
Luke 1:39 ff Gabriel announces the birth of this great king to Mary, along with her the pending birth of John to her relative Elizabeth. A few days later Mary rushes off on a 4 to 5 day journey into the hills south of Jerusalem where Elizbeth lives to visit her. By making the announcement to Mary about Elizbeth, Gabriel was hinting that Mary should go visit her. Elizabeth was having a similar blessed birth. Past birth giving years, they all thought. Too old to have a baby, and now she is pregnant. How would you all like that miracle? 😉 Mary and Elizabeth could connect and talk with each other in ways that they could not yet share with others in the world. From time to time, we all need to receive and give that kind of connection and understanding and reinforcement from another person in the flesh. As a child once explained to a mother’s comforting words, “God was always with you.” She said, “Yes I know, but sometimes you need someone with skin on.” We all need that touch sometimes.
Elizabeth Mary greets her, and Elizabeth’s baby in her belly, now about 6 months along now and yet officially to be named John) leaps for joy in her belly. Baby kicks are not unusual, but Luke isn’t mentioning this as some side note as a simple happy coincidence – Mary happened to come, the baby happened to kick, how neat is that? No, he intends it to be a Spirit-led salute of one miraculous baby to the other. Elizabeth, also Spirit filled -- recognizes it as a sign, and salutes (pays tribute to) Mary.
Does Jesus still excite us? How excited are we when we experience Jesus among us? Do we leap for joy and honor him? It would have been easy for Elizabeth, having been granted a miraculous birth -- to be jealous or envious, even resentful; that her special blessed son was going to be quickly outshone by her young unwed relative, and her pregnancy and her birth to her son. Jealousy would have made her life dark and miserable. But instead the text shows that she is amazed and privileged to host the one who is blessed above all others. Her humble attitude allows her to experience the rich happiness of life -- her words are loud with excited passion and hymn like… Micah’s word of hope to a dark world was finally lifting to a new day!
One commentator put it this way -- twilight falls [into darkness, then], at the beginning of a new day when the luster of the rising sun becomes visible, the beautiful song of the birds is heard in the open. Ironically, it is the detail-filled physician of science – Luke - who records the creative, artistic, poetic songs of God’s favored people bursting into praise… Elizabeth is the first songstress of the dawning new era – and this is what she sang: “Blessed are you among women [Mary], and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she [meaning Mary] who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:42b-45 (NIV)) Mary, you are so blessed because you believe! Does your belief lead to blessing, to fulfillment, to fullness, to contentment?
Mary And Mary sings in reply, her song is calmer, more restful, controlled, but grander. Her words:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of
the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, [she is not
boasting here] for the Mighty One has done great things for me [she hasn’t done anything, it
is all God] — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to
generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are
proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted
up the humble. He has filled the [spiritually] hungry with good things but has sent the rich
[those who think they are so self-sufficient and self-fulfilled that they don’t need God, he has
sent them] away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to
Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
(Luke 1:47-55 (NIV - not including the bracketed commentary))
Mary’s song is filled with praise and worship. She describes herself as a humble servant whom God has so richly favored, she will always be blessed. How deep is his mercy for those who cherish, revere and respect him by honoring him with lives that cooperate with his will. Are we cooperating with his holy will?
The truly humble and obedient, like Mary, like Elizabeth, become the honored channels of God’s renewal; while the proud and self-satisfied will continue to descend into the darkness and destruction of spiritual ignorance. Mary saw that all God’s power and holiness and mercy and faithfulness -- would be revealed in her Son Jesus. Mary is so confident of these promises of God that she speaks of them in past tense, Jesus hasn’t even been born yet, but she speaks as if it is already done…
And much of what God began in those days in the womb of Mary is continuing to happen in increasing measure until Christ comes to wrap it up in the end, and everything will be completely fulfilled.
While we wait for that great day, we approach Christmas and the end of another year, the celebration of God’s new beginnings with his people, and our new beginnings into a new year. (A new time to start fresh) Like Bethlehem welcoming its new ruler in hopes of putting behind them sorrow, spiritual hunger, and fear, birthing a ruler who was less interested in a throne surrounded by angels than by his dwelling with each of us, helping us make new starts and reaching for new heights.
What spiritual preparations do I need to make as Jesus comes to visit me?
And like Elizabeth welcoming Mary; we too welcome family and friends and sometimes we feast, and open presents and then think about what new adventures we hoping to have in the new year… I don’t know about you, but when all these things happen, when you have company coming, there are a lot of things to do, isn’t there? You have to clean the house, a little better than you usually do (unless you are one of those people 😊). And you have to go special shopping for the gifts, and special shopping for the special meals, and there are cards that need to be sent, and just all kinds of extra preparations that have to be done. And the list of these physical preparations are obvious to us because we do them year after year after year. Some of us still write them down, (and don’t get them done 😊)!
But what kind of spiritual preparations do we make as Jesus comes to our lives and lives among us and within us as we head into his new birth and the birth of a new year? How will we, like Micah, like Bethlehem, like Elizabeth and Mary, how do we humbly open our hearts to find him and his will for us in the midst of all the preparations that we make? Someone sent me this poem this week:
A Christmas Letter from Jesus
[and this is what he says to us]
When you look for me at Christmas,
you won’t need a special star.
I’m no longer just in Bethlehem,
I’m right here where you are.
You may not be aware of me
amid the celebrations.
You’ll have to look beyond the stores,
and all the decorations.
But if you take a moment
from your list of things to do,
to close your eyes and say a prayer,
I’m waiting here for you.
You’re the one I want to be with,
You’re the reason that I came!
And you’ll find me in the stillness
where I’m whispering your name.
(Barbara Passion: From Whispers From the Father’s Heart 1997)
Closing Prayer and Blessing
Lord, in our anxiousness to prepare for celebrating you, it is easy to get lost and forget about you. When we sense the darkness all about us, as the sun rises, (even if it is behind the clouds), remind us that your Light has come. When we sense your greeting, may our insides leap for joy. When we meet with each other, may we once again sing to you in praise, recognizing that in you, all our fears fade,. and all our hopes are fulfilled.
Now as you go, stand firm in the faith. Give yourself fully to the worthwhile work of the Lord. Be an example of how to prepare God's way to your heart, that you may welcome his coming and continue to grow from darkness to his glorious light as we continue to allow God to descend upon and be born in us today. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 230 O Little Town of Bethlehem