Christmas Eve - Candlelight/ December 24, 2015
Micah 5:2-5a / Look to Bethlehem!
The future was grim. It was only a matter of time when the Babylonians would come to destroy the city that Israel loved so much. Israel would never be the same. Families would be separated from their loved ones, motionless bodies littering the streets, buildings burned and destroyed, and the idea of a home being wiped from the map.
The prophet Micah was a small town prophet in the big city of Jerusalem, yet he didn’t have the voice or message of someone who would be scared to be in the big city. He brought the reality of Israel’s sin to their eyes. Their sin would bring about their destruction and their captivity into Babylon. They had become so fascinated with their idea of self that God was placed on the back burner. Idolatry had become so common place in Israel that for many people, the idea of worship was merely a formality. It was nothing more than a ritual to make you feel better about yourself or at least some type of good luck charm. Since Star Wars came out, I’ve been in that frame of reference. I think that the people had a Han solo approach to God. Han solo said, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.” The idea of God wasn’t practical to the people, unless it brought them good luck.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on being practical and pragmatic. Our country was built because the possibilities were endless and we had room to expand. Our necessity to constantly invent and to improve brought innovation to the world. And unfortunately, Han Solo’s good blaster replaced those “hokey religions.” So often, we put God on the back burner and make the idea of studying God’s word a chore. Going to church becomes nothing but a formality and an inconvenience.
It’s not that we even knowingly do it. It’s not that we always miss church on purpose. It’s not that we don’t always want to go to bible class or even read a devotion that takes the length of an average tooth brushing. It’s that we let it happen. We let Satan waltz into our lives without a second thought. We let the distractions of this world be more important than making an effort to fight those distractions. And honestly, it’s that we just don’t care about our salvation enough to put any effort in. Judgment and destruction seems so far away. In reality, it’s like we are in a burning house, we see our family in that house with us and so often we are simply too lazy to grab the hand of the firefighter because it’s too much work.
The prophet Micah didn’t want that for us or for his contemporaries in Jerusalem. Bethlehem would come to the rescue! We would laugh at such a claim. Bethlehem was such an insignificant city. How could anything good come from that city? Bethlehem was nothing but a blip on the map, and not even that. In fact, it had to be distinguished from another Bethlehem in another area. This Bethlehem was called Ephrathah, which means “fruitful.” That’s never a good sign when you have to differentiate from a more prominent city. Really, the town of Bethlehem couldn’t be classified as a city. It was a clan. A clan was usually an area consisting of about 1000 people and even then, Bethlehem was on the small side of that. It never grew beyond a village. Besides the fact that it had a military garrison there, it’s only claim to fame was that the greatest king of their nation’s history, King David, had come from Bethlehem. I’m sure the people of Bethlehem made it apparent that they had somebody famous come from their town. Maybe they had a King David downtown Square, like we have a Houdini Plaza! Even though Bethlehem was about as insignificant as a town can get, fame awaited Bethlehem as the birthplace of the greatest king of all. Here in this city, which literally means “the house of bread,” Jesus would be born who would be our Bread of Life. The Messiah would come from Bethlehem just like his ancestor.
Before Jesus, King David was the greatest king to grace Israel and he didn’t even come from a royal family. He was nothing but a shepherd boy in Bethlehem. As any shepherd did, he would have to put his life on the line to save a bunch of sheep that didn’t know any better. Isn’t it fitting that Micah describes our Messiah King, this descendant of David, as a shepherd! He is constantly standing, never sitting down on the job, as he is vigilant to protect us and guide us. Are we not sheep, mindless and dumb witted to our Shepherd’s greater plan? Most of our lives are stuck staring at the portion directly in front of us, caring only about how we will take care of ourselves. And yet, our Savior takes upon himself our sin and our needs because his love for us is stronger. Our Good shepherd not only lays down his life for us, but takes it up again. Here is the Good shepherd who gives his sheep eternal life and guarantees that, “They shall never perish” and “no one can snatch them out of his hand.”
Isn’t it then fitting that the angels would appear to the shepherds first? These shepherds were not the big shots of their society. They were the hard working, under-appreciated, under payed workers who probably smelled like dirty animals. But, they saw Jesus. These shepherds saw eternal life resting in a manger. They were only inches away from God, inches away from their Messiah, inches away from salvation. He couldn’t even talk or feed himself. He probably even threw up on the shepherds’ clothes. This child seemed so helpless, but this child was here to help us. He would bring us peace.
“Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, Ringing through the land, Bringing peace to all the world, And good will to man!” “Snoopy's Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen sang about Christmas bells bringing peace. For a holiday season that speaks so much about peace, it feels like it really doesn’t seem to bring the peace. Are we not worried about seeing our family and getting everything ready? Do the bells that come across the radio as Mariah Carey and Paul McCartney sing bring everyone together in happy unity? Does Snoopy show us where to find the peace inside of us? Do nations stop hating each other? At the Battle of the Bulge, On Christmas Eve in 1944 during a lull in fighting, the hunkered-down Americans sitting in their trenches could hear Germans singing “Stille Nacht" - Silent Night - in the distance. Soon, even the American voices began to sing with them. It was only 10 minutes later that the shooting started again. 10 minutes! I think you get the picture. The idea of peace at the Christmas time still seems bleak. Not even Snoopy and his Christmas bells can bring peace to people.
But on that first Christmas, we see peace in action. Jesus Christ is not only the Prince of Peace, he IS peace! Having him, we have peace in the fullest sense of the term. This peace gives us the assurance that our sins have been atoned for, that we have been forgiven, that even our constant warring against God has been blotted out of God’s memory forever, and that the death sentence that hovers over our head has been kicked, beaten, and defeated by the death of our Prince of peace. His victory is complete, no enemies are left to stand against him. Sin is destroyed, and death with it. He has shattered the iron shackles Satan used to imprison us.
Jesus is peace. Three short words, yet an eternity of study cannot fathom its depths, millions of words cannot exhaust its meaning. That is the peace foretold in the Old Testament, proclaimed by the angels on the fields of Bethlehem, brought out in the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote to his congregations.
The prophet Micah was one lucky guy that he was able to catch a glimpse of that wonderful glory before it even happened. Micah would see not just believers in the nation of Israel, but he would see us: people of all different backgrounds. How could he not be so happy to think that we would be directing people to the Messiah thousands of years later? Micah saw that kingdom of our Messiah, a kingdom of peace, and he shares that message with us this evening. As we continue to live in a world of war, not only politically, but also spiritually, the prophet Micah speaks to us! He insists that the citizens of our Messiah’s kingdom live securely, that they live their Christian lives, that they continue to strengthen their faith with God’s word, because then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
I wonder how silent that night actually was as we sing in the hymn, “Silent Night?” How could it be? Shepherds were yelling! Angels were singing! How could anyone staying in that inn get any good sleep that night? People would have been coming in and out of that building all night. Things were in motion. Our salvation was here and everybody was supposed to know about it. We want all people to experience the peace that only Christ can bring. This peace all started in a little town, but it brought to us blessings of eternal proportions. Merry Christmas!