4th Sunday in Advent (C)
December 23, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from Micah, which was read a few minutes ago.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with optical illusions: a picture that can be two different things depending on how you’re looking at it. Do you see a bunny or a duck? Do you see a young woman or an older lady? Two faces or a vase?
What about this picture? Do you see a small village or something else? Obviously, this is an artist’s rendition of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus. To many, this little village is pretty, but unimportant, and in a way, they’re right. When Jesus was born, Bethlehem wasn’t much of a town at all. A clan was a thousand people so when Micah says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah” it means that Bethlehem had less than a thousand people. They were just a little village. Even today, with a population of about 27,000 residents, Bethlehem isn’t a metropolis by any means.
Bethlehem may not have been much in terms of size, but it’s significant in the history of Bible. Jacob’s wife Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin and was buried there. It was in Bethlehem that Ruth meet Boaz there and became part of the lineage of Jesus. And David, the greatest Israelite king, the king whose sons, grandsons, and other descendants would rule over Israel, was born and raised in Bethlehem. But the sin of David’s descendants and of Israel changed all that. Micah says, “Therefore He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth.” David’s family no longer ruled of Israel, Herod the Great, a Roman, now ruled over much of Israel. David’s kingly line was dead and gone; as Isaiah said, all that remained of David’s line was a stump.
A stump is just the remains of a tree that’s been cut down. We have men around town whose job it is to grind them down and haul the sawdust away. Sometimes though, life emerges from a stump, and for that we return to Bethlehem. Jerusalem and Rome were, and are, mighty cities, populated, famous, part of history, and yet Bethlehem is so much more. God prophesied that the Savior would come from Bethlehem, and this Savior would be the new King David, a greater King, the perfect King.
There’s over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus, and each and every one came true, and Micah’s words are no exception. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” If God kept all these promises to send the Savior, how much more will He keep the promises that He made to you? God’s Word doesn’t lie! He said He’d send His Son and He did, He said that this Savior would rescue you from your sins, and He did!
The baby born in Bethlehem is another of God’s optical illusions. The baby Jesus is cute. He cooed and smiled. He filled His diaper and cried to be fed. He was just like every other baby who has ever been born. The ladies who helped deliver Him, didn’t see a halo or a special glow or hear a little drummer boy who suddenly arrived on the scene. From all appearances, there was nothing special about the newborn Jesus. But Micah lets us in on the secret, he shows us more. He describes Jesus as “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” This baby, born of a virgin, is the Son of God. He existed before time began. He is very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made. I think that we forget this sometimes. We see the baby Jesus and we see the crucified Jesus, but do we see God? Do we recognize the eternal, almighty, omniscient, all powerful God that exists in that man? Do we comprehend the magnitude of God becoming a real man so that He could do what needed to be done to save us from our sins? We should because God humbled Himself to be born of a virgin for us and for our salvation.
The name Bethlehem translates “house of bread” and that’s so fitting! Jesus is the Bread of Life and He came from the “house of bread”! He came that we might eat of Him through faith and in the Lord’s Supper. He is the Bread of Life and He gives us life because His death was a real death. Times Magazine ran a headline years ago declaring “Is God Dead?”, but He’s not! He really died, it wasn’t imaginary, partial, or pretend, He really was dead, but you know this, He didn’t stay dead! He rose because He’s God! No human being can stop death from coming when it’s time. No human being could bring themselves back to life. But the God-Man Jesus can and did. That’s why the Savior had to be both God and Man. He became man, born of the virgin Mary, so that He could live as one of us, so that He could obey His Father, and face off with Satan. He was God because it was the only way He could save us from our sins and bring us back to life. No man could do that; only God could do all that God said had to be done.
In his book, Micah says that Israel would regain its prominence under its new king. Not in the sense that Herod would be overthrown, and Israel would once again become a mighty nation. Rather, a new Israel, God’s holy people, each of you, would be part of a mighty nation living under the perfect king, Jesus, the Savior. You have been called to Him, gathered together to receive your forgiveness, salvation, and security, because He is not just a king, He’s a Kingly Shepherd.
Shepherds at the time of Jesus weren’t all that popular. They weren’t the best educated, they spent all their time outside surrounded by sheep. Generally, they were looked down upon, which is sad because they had an important job. In the Old Testament though shepherds were respected and played an important role in God’s story. Moses, Abraham, and Joseph were all shepherds and Jesus is the perfect shepherd. Micah says, “And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.” Your Shepherd King is the shepherd of your soul. He watches over you, defending you from Satan, refreshing you with His word, His body, and His blood. Micah says about you, “And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” You can live with the knowledge that you are at peace with Him and that you will live securely under Him all the days of your life, and beyond.
In the 90’s, Magic Eye Pictures were quite popular. Do you remember those? They were optical illusions that I never could see what I was supposed to see. I’d stare until my head hurt and I still couldn’t see anything. Thank God that He has opened our eyes to the true picture of His Son. We don’t see Bethlehem as an insignificant village but as the birth place of the Savior. We don’t see a fussy baby, we see God in human flesh. We don’t see a stinky shepherd, we see our King standing watch over us, the sheep He loves so dearly that He laid down His life for us. Tomorrow, we get to start the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Let us gather around and with our eyes of faith see Him for who He is, not an illusion, but our salvation.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen