Micah 5:2-5a CEB
As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces,
one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you.
His origin is from remote times, from ancient days.
Therefore, he will give them up
until the time when she who is in labor gives birth.
The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel.
He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
They will dwell secure,
because he will surely become great throughout the earth;
he will become one of peace.
Okay, a personal habit of mine is when I hear of a town or city that’s new to me, I like to look them up online. I like to see things like where they are located and how big they are and things like that. I love to use Wikipedia for this because it also has a section where it will tell me the famous people that have come from these places. Now, if I were to look up Bethlehem, I would find that it is a small town, probably not more than a thousand people, but what a pedigree! Three well-known biblical figures have sprung from this most humble of abodes. We have Ruth who gleans wheat from the fields here, we have David tending to sheep before becoming a king, and we have Jesus being born in a stable there before turning the whole world over! What can I say other than that we have a God of small beginnings, one who takes the most unexpected people and places and uses them to change the world in major ways. I think this prophecy from Micah serves as a reminder that God can use us, our small origins and efforts to affect change in the most surprising of ways!
The prophet Micah writes sometime during the height of the Assyrian Empire when both Israel and Judah were under threat of invasion and conquest by this much bigger power. Micah writes during a time of upheaval and unrest. Micah shares about what God is planning to do, and it probably looks nothing like what the people expect. Micah promises a ruler, but it will not be one from the seats of power. Instead, this ruler will come from a tiny town among other tiny towns across the countryside. Micah promises someone who will overcome all the pain of the present time, but it won’t be in the ways that other empires and nations have done things in the past. This is no David who still used the sword and spear to overcome enemies, but instead, this one will overcome the world with gentleness. He will not be a warrior but a shepherd. His rule will not rest on the defeated bodies of his opponents, but instead it will rest on peace, a kind that will spread across the face of creation.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is that we assume that you have to be a particular kind of person to make a difference in this world. We are not surprised when the countless biographies of famous people tell us how unique and special the major figures of history are, and how it is ultimately no surprise that they made the difference that they did! We read about George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others like them rather than the countless ordinary people that shared this earth with them that did not do the things they did. Micah’s prophecy remains just as revolutionary today as it was then because of this. Infact, we could say that God has a habit of undercutting the countless expectations of those who worship and follow the Lord. This is a God who sides with slaves. This is a God who raises up the younger brother. This is a God who hears the barren mother. This is a God who is angered when the orphan and widow and the poor and the alien are mistreated and abused. This is a God who causes a young woman who will one day bear the Son of God to give thanks to a deity that pulls down the powerful and lifts up the lowly! This is a God of the unexpected, who surprises us and the world by raising up the least among us to shake the world.
During the Advent Bible study that we have been doing on Tuesday mornings, some folks shared their surprise at hearing that when God is described as the Lord of Hosts it is because our God has a whole army of angels in the heavens. Our God has an army, but I think the reason that we might be surprised is that God never uses this army. It is not as though God responds to the problems of people and nations by sending in an army to make things right. God accomplishes the divine will by sending babies. God changes things through having armies stand by and do nothing as God sends mice to go eat the bowstrings of the enemy to defeat them. (If you do not believe me on that one, I would recommend a closer reading of Isaiah because that happens!) Our God does not overcome evil with violence. Our God does not overcome oppressors and injustice with destruction and wrath. Instead, we have a God who overcomes evil with good, death with life, and hate with love.
It should come as no surprise that God does not use big things but small things to affect the greatest changes of all. I am reminded that our God uses a small helpless baby in a small town on the very edges of the Roman empire. That our God sent a host of angels not to royalty or to the seats of power in Jerusalem or Rome but to country shepherds with this world shattering news that a messiah has been born. Our savior, Christ Jesus, did not overthrow the Romans with violence. Jesus did not tear apart the temple and cast out the priests. Jesus did not raise an army. Our Christ overcomes the evils of the world through love, through gentleness, and through peace. Jesus even defeats death by dying. Jesus dies the death of a criminal, to bring us all new life. Now, we might be saying to ourselves that we are no Jesus, so what could God possibly do with us? At the same time, I am reminded that another prophet, Isaiah, reminds us that Jesus is ordinary, in fact, you could even say unattractive. Isaiah tells us that there is nothing about this man’s appearance that would draw anyone to him. He was not the most handsome, the most charismatic, and not the strongest. Jesus was an ordinary man, who also happened to be divine. It was not his birth, his appearance, or even power that marked him as who he would be.
Jesus did not conquer the world through the ordinary paths of power, but instead, overcame this world through love and through obedience to God. My friends, none of us are perfect and most have humble origins, but I can promise that this does not matter to God. God will take our imperfect selves and best efforts at love and use them to shake this world. My friends, God does not measure things by the yardstick of the world but with the weight of eternity where there are no ordinary lives and no ordinary people. Our smallest acts and our simplest of lives lived with love in our hearts toward our neighbors and obedience to God resound and boom throughout the heavens! Maybe no angels announce our births to crowds of shepherds, and maybe our coming is not announced in the stars. At the same time, I trust in a God who says that he has good plans for us. I like to imagine that in the scale of eternity, each of our births is announced before the throne of God.
I like to imagine that when each of us enters the world, the angels sing before God’s throne, “Look, so-and-so is born! They will change the world - even if it is just the world of their friends and neighbors - by being a source of love and goodness in this world!” We do not need power. We do not need weapons. We do not need to be the biggest and the best. We, like a small babe in a small town in a small corner of the world, can have a bigger impact than we will ever know! Tell me, where are you being used by God? Where is God acting in small ways into your life? Where do you see God changing your life, shaking your world this Advent season? Finally, where do you see God acting through the ways you love in this world to bring it closer to the coming moment of the eternal reign of the Prince of Peace? Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman