Sermon Ideas For Micah 5:2-5a Part 5
When Micah made his predictions 2700 years ago, Bethlehem had little to boast about apart from its past. Its few inhabitants could perhaps still mark the spot where 900 years earlier grieving Patriarch Jacob laid to rest in a quickly-prepared wayside tomb his beloved Rachel who died while giving birth to her little Benoni, the "son of my sorrows" (Gen 35:16-20). Surely they recalled how impoverished and embittered Naomi returned here from Moab almost 500 years later, bringing with her that beautiful young Moabite, Ruth, also a widow. Ruth married a man named Boaz, had a son, Jesse, who in time had a son of his own, David. David, the poet-king, was Bethlehem's true claim to fame, even if David was now dead for 300 years and his descendants had squandered away the kingdom. Apart from that, Bethlehem was about as influential as Podunk Center, Iowa.
God is full of surprises! From this little insignificant town, predicts Micah, will come another ruler, a unique one who will be even greater than David. His family tree goes way back into the grey, indistinct past, but then so does the family tree of each of us to the point where everyone's roots intertwine with those of this promised one. His influence will be world-wide, his relationship and submission to God unquestioned, his example as peacemaker undisputed. Instead of being a king who sits to be served, he will be a shepherd who constantly stands guard to serve and protect the flock he loves.
The trouble is, you can't pay today's bills with last year's memories or promises of next year's earnings. On the face of it, Micah's prophecy has nothing positive in it for the people who first heard it, even less for us. If anything, he makes clear that the future of this little town and its people, along with that of the whole region of Judah—to which this prophecy is directed—is about to take a sharp turn for the worse. He, God, will give these people up, leave them to their own devices to survive as best they can until the ruler is eventually born.
How long that will take is anyone's guess. Micah gives no hint whatever that it will take another 700 years before the ruler comes. Meanwhile, though the phrase she who is in labor certainly refers to the mother of the future ruler—besides triggering memories of Rachel—it also sounds like a carefully chosen description of more suffering awaiting the land of Judah. Psalm 80, the companion psalm to Micah 5, with phrases like bread of tears and tears to drink in full measure, underscores the prophets dreadful prediction. Pleasant it will not be for this little village on the edge of the Judean desert!
The realities of this prophecy for Micah's people turn out to be remarkably like the realities in which believers have found themselves all through history. The readings of the past two weeks have focused on repentance and rejoicing, respectively. Now Micah adds to the series the reality that one can sincerely and completely repent, rejoice with good reason over the turn away of condemnation and the renewed relationship with God, and despite that see little or no change in the circumstances of one's daily life. Claims of certain televangelists and other preachers of our day notwithstanding, repentance ordinarily does not bring financial windfalls that end money worries—though changed spending habits may bring some relief. Repentance does not magically cure cancer, undo the tragic consequences of Trisomy 21 (Down's syndrome), miraculously rescue believers from falling airplanes or sinking ships, or stop wars. It may not even resolve the irreconcilable differences that lead to divorce.
So what—for the people then and for us today—is the purpose of this little Micah passage, besides being used 700 years later to guide first the wisemen to the little Jesus to bring gifts, and hard on their heels Herod's soldiers so they can bring death to little boys and sorrow, once again, to weeping Rachel?
The purpose clearly is reassurance. God, through the words of Micah, draws a long, unbroken line through all of history from its very beginning through the coming Ruler to history's last heartbeat. Not a moment is outside of the plan and control of God. Not a single event happens that does not fit into God's long-range plan. Not a person lives whose times are not in God's hands. No, it will not always be easy. To quote the familiar words of Annie Johnson Flint, God has not promised skies always blue or flower-strewn pathways all our lives through…But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labor, light for the way.
After this time of labor that must come, after the Ruler is born, the lives of all of us will be touched by him as his influence spreads around the globe. Just as in the beginning our ancestral roots touched his, so in time to come our branches will intertwine with his. We are only temporarily distanced from God; the Ruler will bring us together again. In times of trouble, when repentance brings no relief of suffering, when our rejoicing is mingled with our tears, God tells us that little people in little villages fill an important part in God's plan. We are enjoined to faithfulness even if we cannot see the final outcome.