Reader: “A ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”
Response: “And he will be the source of peace.”
Scripture: Micah 5:2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
whose origins are in the distant past,
will come from you on my behalf.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.
And he will be the source of peace.
In what seems almost always the case in the First Testament, the nation of Israel has again rejected the Lord. The nation has divided and the people of both Israel and Judah are characterized by social injustice, political intrigue and maneuvering, religious corruption including child sacrifice, economic injustice, horrible and inept leadership actually making alliances with the enemy, personal vice, lying, and treachery. Sound familiar? Other than that, things were going well! Into this decadent climate came the prophet Micah. In what was a repeating pattern, Israel and Judah both turned a deaf ear to Micah’s prophetic message of God’s coming judgment. His words proved true and Israel and then Judah were hauled off into exile.
What was also included in Micah’s pronouncements were messages of hope and God’s promise to subdue Israel’s enemies eventually. Israel, through the grace of God, would be returned to their homeland. God’s faithfulness, love and forgiveness would bring their restoration. This hopeful message is what you just read. I’m sure you recognized the reference to Bethlehem Ephrathah, the land alloted to the tribe of Judah. Ephrathah, meaning “fruitful land,” was the original name of Bethlehem. Ironically, it is the place where Rachel, Jacob’s wife died as she gave birth to Benjamin, the last of the twelve brothers who became the twelve tribes of Israel. She was buried in Bethlehem. About 500 years later the little village became the birthplace of King David and 1000 years after that, the birthplace of the King of kings.
It was this very passage that guided the magi to the birthplace of Jesus. While the star guided them to Jerusalem and their meeting with King Herod, they then asked where the Jewish king was to be born. Herod asked his own priests and teachers what they knew about the birthplace of such a king. It was this passage that gave Herod the specifics. He then called for a private meeting with the magi and told them where the birthplace was to be.
Did you notice that the magi were given information a step at a time. They acted when they saw the star and followed it. It got them to Jerusalem in the land of Judah. So they asked for more specific information. They acted again on what they had been shown and took the next step to find the new King of Israel. They were then given a dream which told them of the next step―and they headed back home. That kind of pattern often appears in Scripture. God gives us enough information to take the next step and when we have acted in faith, the next step appears. Seldom are we given the whole picture at the beginning. It was often true then and also in our day.
Secondly, did you notice the phrase “one whose origins are from the distant past”? This phrase is a reference to the Incarnation of Jesus, a divine-human, a God-man being. So when the magi arrived to greet the child, the word Matthew uses is proskuneo, meaning to do reverence to, literally “to kiss towards.” It is most often translated “worship.” The magi recognize the significance of this little person and respond accordingly by worshiping him. This remarkable acknowledgment of the child was divinely inspired.
The homage paid by the magi was a shadow of what is yet to unfold. Micah goes on to prophesy that this Shepherd King of Israel will lead his people in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord God. In the future, the people will live undisturbed and the Shepherd will be honored all around the world by all peoples, not just the Jews. The Incarnate Son of God born in Bethlehem in Judea will be the source of peace throughout the world. That day is yet to come, but it will come. Prophets who speak in the name of the Lord are never wrong. And he arrived in a manger in a little village of Bethlehem, Israel! Who would ever have guessed such a thing could or would happen. Jesus came to reconcile all people and all creation to God, for man’s reconciliation to God is the only true peace there is. Take some time and reflect on what this coming world led by the Shepherd will be like. Take your time, it’s not easy to do!
Music: ““O Little Town of Bethlehem” to the tune of Forest Green
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAU5Xg-o-eM The Brits do sing!
Our Father in heaven, grant that in this season of waiting for your return as we look forward to the nativity, grant that we would pay attention to each day and act on what is immediately before us. You know our tendency is to imagine all sorts of things that lie ahead of what could be, or might be, or probably will be, or might not be, or should be, or is certain to be . . . We have trouble staying in the present and at the same time staying in touch with you. Help us Lord to act on what you show us and not run ahead. You know what lies ahead and we don’t. The truth is, we know nothing for certain and you do. May we rest in you today for you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The source of our peace is in you. We pray this in the name of Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.