Sermon Ideas For Micah 5:2-5a Part 4
The theology of the shepherd king dominates this passage. Whether the passage is pre-or post-exilic, its motifs are clear: God's guidance and love of Judah will never diminish; God's divine modus operandi favors humility and service over power and pride; this divine scheme is rooted in an antiquity traceable to the very inwardness of God; its source being the mystery and power of the divine itself; and its purpose and goal, telos and aim, nothing short of God's willed wholeness for all. In many respects, it constitutes a true theology of hope, a model theology for Advent. It is a theology of anticipation, a supreme theology for that kind of human projecting into the future that has the power to nurture and reform our existence now. Indeed, it has the power to engender a kind of theology of example, the shepherd king whose very shepherding inspires the way for shepherd disciples. Let us examine each motif more closely.
First is the subject, the shepherd king himself. Who is this "one who is to rule Israel"? Who will "stand and feed his flock" that they may "live secure" (v. 4)? Who comes forth in behalf of the divine One himself ("for me")? Whether he is the post-exilic longed-for Messiah, or the young Hezekiah of Micah's era, whoever he was for Micah, we know his origin and his purpose. It is God who brings him forth, God's intention that will vindicate his reality. That the New Testament interprets this proclamation as referring to Jesus has forever cast the shepherd king in the image of Jesus of Nazareth. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9:36). "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10: 11,14,16). God understands humanity's "harassed" and "helpless" condition. Thus, the divine response to the human condition is one of "compassion," not judgment or condemnation. And God is willing to go to the limit to restore a fallen humanity. That is a central part of the Advent message that fills Christmastide with joy and hope.
Second is the spirit of God's modus operandi, mirrored in the status that Micah assigns to "Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah" (Micah 5:2). God prefers genuine abasement to pride and rank. A broken and a contrite heart God will not despise (Ps 5 1). Even as Paul would learn, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Here is a foreshadow of the way of the cross, of that theologia crucis that is so central to the Christian life. For evil is overcome, not by equivalent acts of violence, but by the triumph of good. It is the way of the shepherd king and the way of his disciples, too. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you"(Luke 6:27-28). Here is God's approved modus operandi, applicable both to God's shepherd king and Jesus' disciples.
In his book, The Crucified God, Moltmann reminds us of the centrality of a theologia crucis. It was central to Christ's life, as he identified with the abandoned, above all with the God-abandoned, as well as with all who suffer and are oppressed. That too is part of the Advent message, that God's inbreaking calls us as well to identify with our neighbor's pain, his sense of abandonment, his sense of shame, her sense of oppression, her sense of forfeiture, their longing together for redemption, forgiveness, justice, and renewal.
Third is the scope of the shepherd king's domain, "whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2). From eternity to eternity, God's way is the way of a shepherd's love. However far back you may care to trace it, God's very nature is to care and love. As a college student, I remember a sermon by the late George Buttrick, which he preached in the chapel of my alma mater. Buttrick was not only an eloquent preacher but a formidable theologian in his own right. He loved to combine an evangelist's passion with an apologist's zeal to confirm the reality of God's existence. "It's not a question of God's existence, nor has it ever been," he said. "Rather, the real question is the nature of God, the heart of the eternal One." The Gospel of John declares that the very ousia of the Eternal logos became flesh in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, full of grace and truth, for in him God individualized all of the Godhead's creative power and love.
This too is part of the Advent story. Paul Sherer knew how to sum it up in words as equally haunting and compelling as any of Buttrick's. Speaking of the Christ, Sherer writes: "And when I celebrate the day of his birth, I celebrate the day when God made himself so manifest that men have not been able to get away from him…God really does slip into this world when nobody much is looking. On one night of all nights he did it, coming down the stairs of heaven with a child in his arms." (Love is a Spendthrift, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961, p. 7.)
Fourth is the source from which the shepherd king draws sustenance for his flock. "And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God" (Micah 5:4). Not even the shepherd king exalts his own power but subordinates his will to the God of ages. It is not his own strength or his own majesty that he wills for the world. That is neither his prerogative nor his desire. But it is in the strength of the Lord and in the majesty of God's unfathomable name that he casts out the demons that debilitate humanity and erode its hope for tomorrow. Listen to Jesus' own words, from which, in Sherer's turn of the phrase, "men have not been able to get away." "Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me" (John 6:37-38). Even in the shadow of death, he could still pray: "Not my will but thine be done."
Advent calls us afresh to will the will of God, the will of the Father, as even the Son willed. It is a time to reflect on our own priorities and on all that ennerves them from the center. Advent reminds us that, ultimately, the question in not, what is that center, but Who is that center? For God's grace is sufficient for us, and God's strength made perfect in our weakness.
Finally, this Micahean passage, with its accent on Advent theology, touches on the significance and purpose of the Shepherd king's mission, "And they shall live secure... and he shall be the one of peace" (Micah 5:5a). Peace, security, wholeness is the meaning of the word shalom in the Old Testament sense, and shalom is the word employed here. Human wholeness, unfettered from the anxieties that bind the soul to its fallen past and uncertain future, that is the goal of the shepherd's watch, the shepherd's stand. "Anyone who comes to me will never be driven away." That is God's definitive answer for a world in search of security and peace. It is a fitting Advent theme: wholeness, renewal, completeness, peace, thanks to the grace and the nail-shattered hands of the Eternal Shepherd.
It is the goal of discipleship as well.
Ben W. Farley
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