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Sermon Ideas For Micah 5:2-5a Part 6

The long journey of the Wise men to Bethlehem is the subject of T.S. Eliot's short, eloquent poem, The Journey of the Magi. The journey is one that involves for these travelers the experience of the exile as they encounter strange lands and customs. Using a wealth of biblical imagery, the poet chronicles the meaning of this journey. At last, these men reach their long sought destination. With memorable understatement, the poet describes the moment:
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon Finding the place, it was (you may say) satisfactory.1
Eliot's poem is an effective meditation on the Advent journey and the experience of waiting and hoping.
The revival of hope amidst a people waiting for God's deliverance is the message of the fifth chapter of the prophet Micah. To explore the dimensions of this hope requires an appreciation of the tradition of prophecy contained in Micah.
There is found in previous chapters in Micah some of the harshest prophetic discourse contained in the entire Bible. The harsh words are aimed at Israel's leadership. These leaders have savagely misused their power, plunging their country into ruin. Consider the opening words of the third chapter as but one possible example of the prophet's rage:
(To rulers of Jacob and Israel) "Should you not know justice?—you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin off them,..."2
(How long would a modern day prophet-preacher last if they lashed out like this at current political, moral or religious leadership?)
Sometime after ruin, exile and warfare has destroyed the nation, the prophetic tradition of Micah shifts toward hope. Chapter Five revives the hope of a people who are longing for leadership that will direct and inspire the rebuilding of the political, moral and religious foundations of their society.
In our world, there is a deep, spiritual hunger. We long for leadership that will direct and inspire the repair of the crumbling moral, religious and political foundations of our lives. Bob Dylan sings of a hope that, like the ringing of a bell, awakens people to the possibility of spiritual renewal:
From "Ring Them Bells"
Ring them bells sweet Martha for the poor man's son Ring them bells so the world will know that God is one For the shepherd is asleep Where the willows weep And the mountains are filled with lost sheep.3
The shepherd who will come and feed his flock is a hope for such a new day of inspired leadership and government. This hope, for Christians, is fulfilled in Christ's governance of the church. From early church mosaics of the fifth to the seventh century featuring Christ as the Good Shepherd, to the beautiful duet in the libretto of Handel's Messiah (derived from Isaiah 40), the hope for inspired government is traced across the expanse of European history.
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, And He shall gather the lambs with his arm,4
The hope Micah evokes in the fifth chapter is like the hope heard in the familiar protest and freedom song:
We shall overcome, We shall overcome, We shall overcome someday. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe That we shall overcome someday.
Other messages contained in this song of freedom:
We shall live in peace. We shall brothers be. The truth shall make us free. We are not afraid.5
The fifth chapter of Micah is the ancestor of this song of freedom.
In an age of warfare, people long for peace. In an age of spiritual emptiness, people long to be fed, inspired and lead. Advent is about this waiting and hoping. The waiting is very long, but the hope is very real.
Henri Matisse, a modern painter associated with a mastery of color, was involved in the typically modern search for freedom of experience and expression. Initially, Matisse is associated with the Fauves, whose wild use of color earned them the name of Wild Beasts in the early part of this century. Matisse is noted for his secular, profane art, glorifying the human form and its expressiveness. So, toward the end of his life, it caused some controversy when the artist was commissioned to design artwork for a small chapel. This work included the design of vestments, chasubles and stained glass. The work engaged his creative abilities during the years between 1947 and 1952.
The reasons for the artist's decision to undertake the design of the chapel are attributed to two factors. One is personal and the other artistic. The personal reason involved his association with a Dominican nun who had nursed him during his convalescence after a serious operation in 1941. His work on the chapel would be an expression of his gratitude for this aid. The artistic reason was his desire for a project that would challenge him to organize a harmonious artistic environment. Matisse considered his work on the chapel, "...in spite of its imperfections...my masterpiece."6
It is a modern parable that this artist's long search for freedom of experience and expression takes him at last to a small chapel. It is a chapel where the artist's vision is placed in the service of the church. His stained glass illuminates with beauty the table on which the symbols and signs of God's gracious presence are found.
It may be a mystery what brought Matisse to the chapel where he finds a place to express the full powers of his creative vision. At least his long search for a fulfilling and harmonious vision was somehow resolved in his work at the small chapel at Vence. And, like the Wise Men in Eliot's The Journey of the Magi, when they reach their destination; Matisse may say when he arrives:
Finding the place, it was (you may say) satisfactory.7
Joel Whiteside
NOTES
1. T.S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi. 2. Bible, Revised Standard Version, Micah 3:1b-3a. 3. Bob Dylan, "Oh, Mercy Album," Ring Them Bells. 4. Messiah: An Oratorio. Music composed by George Frederic Handel, Libretto, by Charles Jennens. Date of composition: 1741. 5. Spiritual. 6. John Elderfield, Matisse in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978) p. 154. 7. The Journey of the Magi.