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Third Midweek in Advent

Micah 5:2-5a

James T. Batchelor

Third Midweek in Advent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Dec 16, 2015 

During these Advent midweek services, we have considered Godís Old Testament people as they strayed away from Godís will.  Two weeks ago we surveyed the moral roller coaster ride of the Children of Israel as they went through cycles of faithfulness and then rebellion against Godís law.  We observed that each cycle was worse than its predecessor until the cycles of faithfulness disappeared.  The northern tribes were the first to go as Assyria conquered them and they were lost to history.  A generation later, Babylon conquered Jerusalem and carried the best of the land into exile for seventy years.

Last week we surveyed the faithfulness of Judah after the Persians gave them permission to return from exile.  They no longer engaged in the blatant idolatry of the times before the exile.  Instead, they tried to earn Godís favor by keeping the outward forms of the law.  From all outward appearances, they appeared to be keeping Godís law.  Never the less, their heart was not in it.  Their obedience was empty motion without meaning.

The history of Israel before and after the exile demonstrates how easy it is to stray away from God and His will.  We can lose our way so easily.  It can happen so slowly and incrementally that we donít even realize whatís happening.  Sometimes we proceed on track, following our lifeís map, as it were. Often we get off track, because, well, life happens, and things pull us this way and that. And we can find ourselves pretty far away from the course we had set.

This can happen to our spiritual lives, too.  We receive baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ as infants, totally dependent on Godís grace, his action in Christ, for us.

As children we are dependent on others, but then we grow up.  We become adults.  We provide more and more for ourselves.  It is tempting to do the same thing spiritually Ö to rely on ourselves instead of God.  We start to think God needs our help; we evaluate our spiritual life on what we have done for God instead of what God has done for us.

We take our confirmation vows to remain faithful, even unto death.  Then comes high school, and college, and, well, life happens.  Without even noticing, we can find ourselves quite a distance away from God, his Word, his will, his way.

Since congregations and even entire denominations are made up of sinners, they too can lose their way.  That is what the German Reformation of the Sixteenth Century was all about.  It was a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths that became the great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone!

We still drift away today.  On the one hand, we can become so enamored of the numbers that we are willing to compromise our very souls just to get more people through the door.  On the other hand, we can still get wrapped up in correct outward forms and teachings without actually receiving the gifts that the Lord wants to give to us.  Like the old story of the rescue station that becomes a club for its members, a congregation can drift from its mission and central message as the body of Christ in this place for all those around it.

From time-to-time God must send messengers to His people to warn them that they have wandered off Ö to bring the Holy Spirit inspired Word to remind them of the gifts God has for them.  This is really what had happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of our text.  The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real kings, not the servants of God for the kingdom of God.  The people had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, and not in serving God and their neighbor.

God gave hard words to His prophets.  ďMicah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ĎThus says the Lord of hosts, ďĎZion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.íĒ (Jeremiah 26:18, ESV)

Yet their message was not without hope.  They spoke of a new king, another son of David.  But there was also a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track.  No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, remembering where they came from, and getting back on course.

For the king, this meant remembering David and his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem.  This wasnít ďDavidís royal cityĒ then.  It was a small rural town, and Jesse and his sons were shepherds.  Remember that Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, and they brought past him all the sons but David Ė he was the youngest and was out in the fields doing his work.  He wasnít even under consideration, but he was the one.

Of course, when he became king, David himself quickly outgrew his humility.  It didnít take long for the house of David to get off course.  And God would have to find them, having lost their way, and get them back.  Back to the beginning.  Back to Bethlehem.  Back to a new birth of a new king.

And so would be born one who would be ruler in Israel (interesting that Micah doesnít call him ďkingĒ). His origins, and his ďgoings forthĒ (that is to say, where he came from and where he was going) was part of Godís everlasting plan to send a savior and save the world, save the church, save you and me, from our irresistible tendency and temptation to get ourselves lost, to get off course, to wander from Godís plan even though we still think we are Godís people.

In our text today, on our last Midweek of Advent, God calls us to consider our spiritual roots.  Some of you were baptized at this baptismal font.  Others, were baptized upstairs in the old church.  Still others were baptized in other churches in other places, but again, in the waters of holy baptism, which is the same power of God unto salvation wherever and whenever it comes to his people.

As we prepare to celebrate our Saviorís birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scenes we might find on cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, of the kingdom of God, for Christ is the Kingdom of God in human flesh.  God Himself went back to the basics Ö in Bethlehem.  Finally, this descendant of David got it right.  No losing His way.  No selfish self-interests.  This Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28, ESV)

He was Godís true king: Davidís son but also Davidís lord.  He would come to his capital city in royal procession and be crowned with a crown of thorns.  He would take upon himself the sin and suffering for all, to bear our sin and be our Savior, securing Godís forgiveness for all our own sin and self-interest.  He would be raised again, ascended to his heavenly throne, where he lives and reigns to all eternity, for us and for our salvation.

Yes, there will be peace, even on earth, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth!

As we bring the last Midweek of this Advent season to a close, we draw nearer to the celebration of God in a manger.  It is good for us to take our preparation back to our beginnings Ö back to the baptismal waters where it all started for you and for me.  There we received our own new life.  There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for our lives.  There we became Godís people, forgiven, to live under him in his kingdom, and to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!  Amen

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