The Fourth Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/20/2015)
Lessons:Micah 5:2-5a Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 80:1-7 (7) Hebrews 10:5-10 St. Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
5.2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
5 and he shall be the one of peace.
Micah 5:2-5a. New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Micah of Moresheth
We continue our mid-week look at the Hebrew prophets with Micah; specifically, “Micah of Moresheth” (1:1). The word “micah” means “Who is like Yahweh?” Micah's ministry took place somewhere around 735 to 700 b.c. This is a period of upheaval and crisis. Ahaz, one of the kings who ruled during these years (in between Jotham and Hezekiah), was one of Judah’s disobedient kings, and during his reign the faithfulness of the people waned. They still worshipped God, but it had more to do with attention to ritual than drawing near to God and having a heart-felt experience of faith. It also was a time when people weren’t particularly committed to practicing justice, or reaching out to their neighbor in love.
During these days Assyria was a threatening nearby foreign power. King Ahaz signed a treaty with them, hoping that this would give security to Judah, but they ended up a weak vassal state, and were eventually conquered by Babylon 100 years or so after Ahaz’s reign.
Micah and Isaiah were speaking to Judah at the same time. While Isaiah's prophecies were directed to the royal household, Micah's prophecies were directed to the common people of the land. This is evident in this week’s lesson. Micah declares that God will send a new ruler, who will lead like the great kings of old. Judah and Jerusalem will suffer until that time, but once “she who is in labor has brought forth” the kingdom will be united again. And from where will this ruler come? From Bethlehem: “one of the little clans of Judah.” The people may have been waiting for someone to emerge from one of the great military, political or economic centers of the land, but God had a surprise from them: they should keep an eye on birth announcements from this small, backwater town; Bethlehem of Ephrathah, one of the little clans of Judah.”
This is the surprising wisdom of God. Israel and Judah will not be saved by military might, or political strength, or economic power — but one will come, who will be known as “Prince of Peace.” He will come to rule people’s hearts and lives with grace and mercy. And as Mary sings in the Gospel lesson from this week, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy…”
Into a world that is fraught with violence, fear, and insecurity will come one who “rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness.” The first generations of Christians, of course, looked carefully at the words of Micah as they attempted to understand Jesus and his ministry; a ministry that was quite surprising to many, but powerful in new and unexpected ways. In these days, may we rely on our Lord for a sense of peace and wellbeing. This might be the best way to honor the ministry of the prophet Micah.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- How does Micah describe the Messiah, promise by God to renew ancient Israel?
- Why is it important that the Messiah will come from a small, relatively unknown town?
- How did the early Christian church make use of these words to understand Jesus?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What is good news about Micah’s promise that one will come and renew God’s people?
- How might hat promise be important to us, in a world still touched by fear and violence?
- How is the strength of God seen in the ministry of Jesus?