All Within Reach (11am)
November 26, 2017 Pastor: Series: A Minor Christmas
Topic: Christ & Hope Scripture: Micah 5:1–5:5a
In the past couple weeks Caitlin and I have been seeing some changes in our 4-month old, Levi. He’s starting to grow out of that super frail baby phase and into what I consider a more fun phase. You know what I’m talking about. He has more neck control, he’s doing that goo-goo kind of baby speak, and just starting to develop a personality. It’s awesome. But one thing that my wife has said on a couple of occasions is how we’re going to have to start baby-proofing the house. We’ve talked about how Levi will be able to reach this and that and essentially every appliance and corner of furniture is an infant death trap waiting to happen. Baby-proofing is a pain, but parents do it because we know one thing: When it comes to little ones and toddlers, it’s all within reachWell, this morning, we are going to be continuing our message series, through the Minor Prophets, as we approach Christmas.
Last week might have felt a little too early, but we are well within range now and know that Christmas is within reach. Thanksgiving is behind us, so that means the trees start going up, car radios will be playing non-stop Christmas music, and many of us begin to orient our lives on a descending countdown to December 25th. And this morning, still almost a full month from Christmas, we’re going to look at a passage from centuries ago, that reveals to us, that the truth of Christmas, the lasting and most powerful truth of Christmas, has been within reach long before any stockings were stuffed, or the existence of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Last week we heard from the prophet Amos. Today, we hear from another prophet, named Micah. And just like virtually all of the Minor Prophets, Micah doesn’t get a lot of time in the spotlight. One of the only notable times this book has probably ever been mentioned outside of a church was in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated into office, and during his oath, quoted Micah 6:8 – “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
This morning we’re exploring a passage just a chapter before the one Jimmy Carter recited. We’re in Micah 5, and I’m going to start at verse 1 and go through most of verse 5.
* Read Micah 5:1-5a *
Last week I mentioned how important it is that we have some grasp of where our prophets are speaking from. Context is key. Micah is no different. The climate during Amos’ time as a prophet was one of complacent and lackadaisical comfort. The state of God’s people is very different when Micah was doing the work of a prophet. The time of Micah was one of the most brutal and war-torn chapters in the history of God’s people. They were literally being invaded and overcome by a foreign enemy. In fact, it is during Micah’s time that Israel as a nation ceases to exist as it is conquered. When Micah shares the words we just heard it wasn’t to a people fondly recalling the good old days. It was to a people terrified of an overwhelming enemy and desperate for any shred of hope.
Not only was Micah sharing God’s word during a time of war, but he also faced internal obstacles. Micah, as a prophet, was not received well by the people. Whether it was because of the surrounding circumstances at the time or not, Micah was constantly ignored and ridiculed. There are accounts of people not remembering his name, mistaking him for other figures and prophets, and even false prophets who outright challenged and attempted to discredit everything he said. Micah faced unbelievably frustrating and daunting fronts of resistance, which were both personal and national. The guy could barely catch a break.
But it was within this climate and through all of these tribulations that Micah spoke the word of God to a people tragically in need of the Lord’s voice. And found within his prophetic message, is our passage for this morning. Fun fact: Verse 2, where it says that Bethlehem is a small clan, is actually the inspiration for the title of the song O Little Town of Bethlehem. And even more importantly, we, a people who have the benefit of hindsight, can see the clear connection to the child who would become our Savior.
Micah lays out the problem and offers the hope. The problem is the siege laid against them. The looming, daunting presence of a powerful enemy wasn’t merely a poetic image. The enemy was real and the people were watching as the Assyrians systematically swept over and conquered the land. This is akin to what it must have felt like in Europe during Germany’s conquests in the World War 2. Truly terrifying and time when hope and peace were well out of reach. But it is with the threat fully in view that Micah offers the message of transforming hope not only for his audience but all people throughout time.
Out of Bethlehem, a ruler would come whose origins are of ancient times. A great shepherd with the strength of the Lord. And that would have sounded perfect to the people. For as long as there was a messianic prophecy, the assumption was that this coming Savior would be a mighty warrior king. It’s why the Jewish leaders didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. God’s people suffered under the rule of harsh and dominating enemy powers. Whether it was the Assyrians during Micah’s time or the Roman Empire at the birth of Jesus, God’s people had become accustomed to and tired of always being beaten down by a stronger ruling power. So a mighty ruler, like the one Micah was describing, would have been a refreshing and exciting prospect.
This ruler out of Bethlehem goes in the name of the Lord and will be over all of Israel. An interesting and hope-filled declaration considering the current state of Israel and its domination by Assyria. This ruler has origins of old and beckons from ancient times. Micah’s audience may have been hoping that meant ties to David’s family or even more ancient. We know that the words “old” and “ancient” actually point much, much further back to the timeless person of the Son of God. In the strength and majesty of the Lord, this ruler will be the shepherd that guides and protects the people of God. He will offer the people security and, as verse 5 says, he will be their peace. And hearing the prophet speak these words, the people of God likely thought this king and his qualities was all within reach.
This grand prophetic image comes with another word within in it. A word that would have been tough to swallow and painful to accept. In verse 3 we hear Micah say that Israel will be abandoned. This image of hope in the coming king is offered side-by-side with the stark, cold reality of the now. The sun will rise but not before the darkest moments of the night. It is this word of Micah…this depressing, realistic, painful word of abandonment…that I believe allows this centuries-old prophecy to connect to our stories.
We aren’t witnessing a military invasion from an overwhelming enemy but that doesn’t mean we aren’t wrestling with the same feelings of struggle and abandonment that we see in this passage. Christmas, we’re told, is a time of cheer and joy. And, for many, that is the majority of the holiday experience. But for many others, this season presents the same painful reality that we read about in Micah 5:3. For some, it is a time of loneliness and anxiety and melancholy. Not because of the date on the calendar in and of itself, but because of how this season amplifies the already painful realities we face every day. For some of us, the generic holiday cheer is out of reach. And that is why the birth of Jesus is so very important. Because just like the shepherds from the story we heard in Luke, it might while overcome with fear, that we hear the only words that eliminate fear entirely.
That’s why I love the end of verse 4 in Micah 5. When talking about this coming king, the prophet says “his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” You see, when it comes to baby-proofing, everything is within reach. The obvious stuff, sure. Every electric socket, the corners on a coffee table, and anything small enough to become a toddler chew toy. But it doesn’t stop there. Parents begin imagining doomsday scenarios where the barely crawling infant is somehow able to fashion a set of makeshift stairs, climb up to the top cabinet of the pantry, and somehow undo the child safety locks on every medication in the house. We seem to constantly overestimate the reach of an infant and yet, I think we often grossly underestimate the reach of Christ.
If it’s one thing this prophetic message in Micah tells us about Jesus, it’s that it is all within reach. The greatness of this prince of peace, this shepherd king reaches to the ends of the earth and that includes every chapter and corner of our stories. Every painful memory, every current struggle, every feeling of sadness. They are all within reach of Jesus. Last week I shared that we have to make sure that we don’t put the goods of Christmas before the Great that is Christ. This week I want to encourage us all in this: Don’t ever think that there is a reality of your life that is not influenced and touched by the birth of Jesus Christ.
When the angel came to the shepherds, the message was as clear as it is powerful: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. All people. All. That means every shepherd in that field. It means each person who heard the prophecy of Micah. It means every child of God in Scripture waiting for the Messiah. It means me. It means you. All people. We are all within reach of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. That child born in a manger is the realization and fulfillment of Micah’s words. The birth of Jesus marks the end of that time of abandonment we read about in verse 3. And his birth marks the end of our own abandonment and our hopelessness.
Jesus Christ willingly came to this place so that He could touch and transform the story of humanity and redeem the tales of tragedy so that they might become stories of joy and God’s faithfulness. That is what we celebrate on December 25th. We celebrate the fulfillment of prophecy from long ago. We celebrate the long-awaited Savior. We celebrate the arrival of Emmanuel – God with us. And we celebrate the truth of the prophet that “his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.”
This means that Christmas provides us a rare moment to celebrate other realities. We celebrate that death no longer has the final word. That for those who must endure this holiday with the memories of a lost loved one, that the birth and life of Christ offers the hope of everlasting life and the reminder that all are within the reach of God’s grace. We celebrate that those who feel alone this Christmas have a Savior who looks at them and declares them precious and loved. We celebrate that those who feel abandoned and forgotten in this world can look to the manger and see the One who has never forgotten them and never will leave them. We celebrate that moments of painful transition and upheaval are not the end of a story but instead only the buildup to a perfect peace given freely by a ruler whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
Friends, I’m not here this morning to tell you that any of these circumstances are easy or that we can effortlessly even give them over to God. I know firsthand from recent experience just as some others of you do that getting ready to celebrate Christmas without a loved one who has recently passed is a painful, grating venture to consider. Changes in relationships that are precious to us or in our jobs are still excruciating realities we have to face. Troubling words from our doctor are still terrifying for us to process. Christmas doesn’t change any of those things. Trees and gifts and reindeer don’t change any of it. But you know what can? You know who can? The one spoken of in Micah 5.
Because, friends, the truth I know and cling to with all that I am is that it doesn’t matter what it is. Pain, joy, uncertainty, change, tragedy, loss, blessing, fear, danger, betrayal, anxiety, transition, death…it is all within reach of Christ’s greatness. Every single iota of the human experience is touched and transformed and redeemed by the birth of a child in a little town called Bethlehem. It is good news for all people. In all times. In all circumstances. We may be under siege on all sides. We might feel like there is no hope. We might be waiting for God to show up. Friends, He already has. And through His life and His work on the cross and His resurrection there is nothing we can go through that is out of His reach. Our only mistake is to assume Christ can’t reach that part of our story.
As we near the 25th, remember that we are celebrating a Savior with origins older than time itself. That we are celebrating the arrival of a shepherd king, a prince of peace, who comes to us and for us and becomes us. Remember that Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate that everything, all the good and all that bad, that everything can be touched and transformed by the Savior that was born in a manger. Remember that when it comes to the greatness and redeeming power of Jesus Christ, that it is all within reach.