Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
The Little Clans of Judah, Micah 5:2-5 & Luke 1:39-55
12/20/15, Neil A. Margetson
The sermon title today comes from The Prophet Micah, part of whose prophecy was read this morning. Micah lived at the same time as Isaiah, Amos and Hosea - around 700 BC - and he had many of the same concerns - the conscience of the nation...it’s faithfulness to basic principles.
He prophesied during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. Micah’s messages were directed chiefly toward Jerusalem. He prophesied the future destruction of Jerusalem and Samaria, the destruction and then future restoration of the Judean state, and he rebuked the people of Judah for dishonesty and idolatry. His prophecy that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem is cited in the Gospel of Matthew.
Micah’s Messiah prophecy says that a ruler will arise who will be from the Tribe of Ephrathah and the Town of Bethlehem - a little clan of Judah.
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...
This is to show that The Messiah would indeed be a human man - a humble man, who would know what the human struggle is all about. And, that he would be a citizen of David’s hometown. At the same time Micah tells us that The Messiah will be more than human.
One...whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
This is similar to the contention in The Gospel According to John that in Jesus what we are seeing is The Eternal Word made flesh. The embodiment of a fundamental power of Creation that was present at the beginning of time and will be present at the end.
Joh 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
For me, what is even more important than the divine origin of The Messiah is what Micah says he will stand for - caring, securing, understanding...peace. He shall be one of peace. On this day it is well that we remember that humanity has been longing for a Savior for a long time.
Why does it even matter where a savior comes from? Why couldn’t he have been anyone from anyplace? Because for his people and for us, the prophecies matter. Not because they’re accurate or inaccurate as predictions, but because of what they say about who The Messiah will be and what The Messiah will do.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the metaphysical side of scripture. Easy to lose sight of the fact that what we’re talking about - always - is human destiny and the human condition. We are mindful of the judgment to come. And of the life to come. But Micah - and the other prophets - were talking about real world events in spiritual terms.
In the opening verses of his book, Micah described what would happen to Israel if she was not faithful, and to illustrate it he used a true life example...the conquest of Samaria. In that sense he wasn’t concerned with the nation’s faithfulness in the abstract, he was concerned about what would happen if she were unfaithful.
Consider this comment from Meyer: The prophets were true patriots and they felt that all good citizens should lament with them, Mic 1:16, in the hope of averting impending judgments. Are we feeling the sins and sorrows of our time, as Jesus felt those of Jerusalem, when He wept over the city?
I put it to you...do we see and understand the sins and sorrows of our time? Do they make you weep? I would argue that ours are both different and the same as those that concerned Micah. In the days of the prophets it was Israel that they preached to and for. Israel that occupied their thoughts and Israel’s welfare that directed their actions. I’m not so sure we can afford any longer to limit ourselves to concerns about our own country. More and more it begins to seem like we must consider the well-being of all people, everywhere if humanity is to survive and flourish. Like a living thing, the nations of the world are interdependent and interconnected. Each one can only survive if all the rest are healthy too.
The fact that so many people seem to have tunnel vision is a problem that will only get worse as time goes on. I’m not thinking now of just climate change, although that’s the obvious example. I’m also thinking about the terrorist threats and military challenges that have us so preoccupied. It should be clear by now that our number one military threat is not a nation or even a proxy for a nation, but groups like The Taliban and ISIS that transcend national boundaries while at the same time using nations to give them both safety and recruits. Defeating them just as clearly demands a real understanding of what drives them, and an impeccable commitment to principles, ethics and faith.
Often when we think about Biblical prophecies we think of predictions about the end of days or the arrival of Jesus. But there were other more pointed prophecies as well. For example, the classic OT disaster - the Conquest of Israel by Babylon. This may have been the most terrible of events for Israel, but it was hardly the End of Days. Many prophets warned that the nation was at risk in the years leading up to conquest. Doesn’t really matter if they thought the problem was military preparedness or lack of faith, the warning was the same. And yet in the end, not much changed until the disaster struck. It seems to be the same thing now. There’ve been many prophetic voices that have sounded the alarm about both climate change and terrorism for a long time...but for the most part it’s been business as usual. And I include in that the business of warfare.
I want to switch over to our NT reading right now. It’s a well-known reading and has two distinct parts. The first section is part of the story of a miracle disguised as a homely visit between two pregnant cousins. For both pregnancies were miracles, though one might argue that Mary’s was the greater. For Mary had conceived without ever having had intercourse, while her cousin, Elizabeth had conceived after believing herself to be barren. Still, this was a matter of degree. Both women had reason to be awed by and grateful to God. Also miraculous were the children themselves, who had supernatural awareness of one another. We know this because it says that the prenatal John responded to the presence of the prenatal Jesus. How would an infant in the womb be aware of another womb-bound infant? Well, he or she wouldn’t...couldn’t...unless a supernatural power was at work.
The second part of the NT text is called Mary’s Magnificat. The link between Micah’s Prophecy and The Magnificat is the notion of the miraculous in small places. Micah tells us that The Messiah is from of old … meaning that he has had a life beyond this life on Earth. That he was God With Us before we ever knew there was such a thing. It means The Messiah really is The Holy Word. It means The Messiah really can perform miracles because he himself is a miracle.
The Magnificat says the same thing in another way. It is a powerful acknowledgement of God’s willingness to intervene in human lives. Not always as we imagine it to be. Not always as we would want it to be. As it is. Finally, The Magnificat reinforces and re-states God’s preference for the small and lowly.
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
This is a further reminder that these insights are not abstract. They have consequences and implications. As our own commitments to faith and principle have consequences. That is why we must always try to apply the lessons we encounter in scripture to real life. Even when it isn’t easy or comfortable.
Mary is a great example of that. You might be inclined to think of Mary as someone who was infinitely blessed by God. After all, she was chosen as the Mother of The Christ. So you would think that she had every reason to be grateful. But that wasn’t really her experience. Imagine for a moment you are Mary. At a very young age you have an experience you cannot explain. Then you bear a child you cannot readily account for. A lifetime of whispers and ridicule are yours to bear, along with a difficult marriage and at the end of it all - a dead son. Yet in spite of all those things the pregnant Mary sang the Magnificat. Giving thanks to God for all of it. She must have know how it would
be. She must have know even then that no one would really believe her story about the angel. But she sang anyway because she knew her child was special. That was an extremely poised and faithful young woman!
I also note Elizabeth’s words and actions. She might easily have felt resentful toward Mary and her child for coming around with her miracle just when Elizabeth was beginning to get some attention of her own. Yet Elizabeth expressed none of that. What she did express was gratitude to God and affection toward Mary.
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.
These amazing women set us an example that we’d do well to follow. They weren’t important people. Weren’t big people. They had no power over others. But what they did made a difference. Oh what a difference! Just like little Bethlehem. Just like working man Jesus. And for that matter just like David, who was only a shepherd boy when he was anointed by God. All of them give us a model. One that puts the greater good ahead of personal comfort. One that places faithfulness ahead of personal well being.
If I leave you with one thought...one feeling on this Last Sunday in Advent, it is that what we do makes a difference no matter who we are. Whenever one person does the right thing...speaks truth to power...stands up for what is good...it matters. When one person welcomes a stranger...puts others ahead of him or herself...God smiles. It matters.
It applies to our church as well. Our size does not matter. We must keep faith with who we understand Jesus to have been and what is asked of us as his followers. The church is Jesus’ representative in the world and it is he who we follow and seek to emulate. It doesn’t matter how big or small a church is - what we do is important. It makes a difference.
There is no doubt in my mind at all that the forces which seek to divide us, one from the other, are demonic forces. At a time in human and global history that demands cooperation and mutual assistance - we must oppose anyone who seeks to drive us apart. This applies both to the terrorists and to those who try to capitalize on our fear by preaching intolerance. Both are evil.
This is the time when the small, the humble, the poor and the wounded can make the difference. When leaders fail, followers must show the way.
The Bible tells us the same thing. When the kings of Israel failed and the Northern and Southern Kingdoms were defeated and all the leaders were taken away, it was The Remnant who kept the Holy Days and lived in The Holy City. And they were there to welcome The Exiles when the returned. When Israel’s corrupt King Herod was told The Messiah was about to be born, all he could think of was his own claim to power, and sought to kill the infant. So it was left to immigrants, shepherds and farm animals to welcome and celebrate the birth of God’s Christ.
In this Season of Advent, with Christmas nearly upon us, let us never forget that the world is ours to make...and ours to save.
And all God’s People did say...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed