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Micah 5:2-5a 1
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace. When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men.

clip_image002Background 2

Micah is usually dated to the eighth century BC, about a century before Zephaniah and Jeremiah. No doubt Mic. 5:2-5a has been chosen for Advent because of its mention of Bethlehem, which anticipates the story of Jesus’ birth in that town. Mic. 5:2 is also quoted in Matt. 2:6 where Bethlehem is identified with the prophecy of a coming Messiah. Micah is the only prophet to refer to Bethlehem.

The prophetic vision of Micah, an ordinary rural man from the small village of Moresheth in Judah (1:1), offers us a challenging and inspiring perspective. Like others around him, Micah saw the injustices of oppression by the rich (e.g. 2:1-2), the false prophets (3:5), the indifference of rulers (3:11), commercial malpractice (3:9) and the wickedness of priests (3:11). He also observed the hegemony and military might of the superpower of the region, Assyria. But in his visions, he opens up for us a ‘God’s-eye view’ of things that sees beyond the immediate human circumstances to a different future.

The first word of Mic. 5:2, ‘but’, indicates a transition from the earlier theme of judgment to that of salvation. This transition from judgment to salvation focuses on Bethlehem, with the prophet addressing the little town. This transition parallels two other points of transition in the Book of Micah, each introduced by a strong ‘but!’ These three points of transition are distributed across the three major sections of the book: one in Micah 1-3 which consists mostly of oracles of doom; one in the visions in chs 4-5; and one in chs 6-7, which cover issues of contention and conciliation. The transition points are in 3:8; 5:2 and 7:7. In 3:8 and 7:7 the prophet compares his own faith and possession of God’s spirit to those whom he critiques. These points of transition point to the deeper reality that with God there is hope for the unexpected reversal of circumstances.

Such a reversal of circumstances is a vital element in many Older Testament texts, especially in the prophets. With God, we encounter the unexpected and the paradoxical. Hope arises out of devastation. Suffering embodies salvation. This is a profound element of our faith which we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters, as we all look with hope for the advent of God. In preaching in Advent, we may want to consider what this cycle of judgment and salvation means in our present world.

The return of the people of Judah from captivity in Babylon is a major theme in later prophets. But Micah even touches on this in 5:3, where he refers to the return of the people of the northern kingdom, Israel, which was captured almost 140 years before Judah and Jerusalem were overcome by the later Babylonians. This theme of reconciliation in Micah is one that we as Christians understand in the context of the reconciling Christ who offers unity to people divided in space and time. It is also a hope which we share with Jews, who in their own way await the coming Messiah.

Micah is one of the few prophets who is mentioned elsewhere in the Older Testament (cf. Jer. 26:18, quoting Mic. 3:12). There we find some leaders of Judah with the viewpoint that, as a result of Micah’s prophecy, Jerusalem was spared at the time Samaria fell to the Assyrians. The psalm for Advent laments this fall of Samaria (Ps. 80:2) and, like Micah, affirms the shepherd care of the God of Israel. The Gospel (Luke 1:39-55) speaks of the blessing of the baby conceived in Mary. In that text, Christians see evidence of the timely advent of God of which Micah first spoke.

Biblical Truths 3

The new circumstances Micah sees are linked to God’s coming ruler (5:2). The Hebrew word for ‘one who is to rule’ (moshel) does not speak so much of dominion or of control as of wise declaration. Elsewhere the same root is used for the word ‘proverb’ (mashal). Surprisingly, and in keeping with a sense of divine irony, the new ruler will arise from one of the least of the clans of Israel. The ruler’s origin in Bethlehem evokes thoughts of King David (cf. 1 Sam. 16:1) whose dynasty ruled over Jerusalem and Judah for almost 500 years. However, David is not identified as this ruler in Micah, nor does Micah refer explicitly to the ‘anointed’, i.e. the messiah. While Matthew quotes this text reasonably faithfully (Matt. 2:6), John 7:42 reveals another Jewish reading and tradition that clearly brought the Micah reading together with a reference to a Davidic messiah.

Mic. 5:3 speaks of a woman in labor, a theme found also in Isa. 7:14 and 9:6 and elsewhere. This reference to labor and the birth process echoes the reference in Mic. 4:9-10, but differs from that passage which envisages ‘the pains’ of exile to Babylon. There is no reference to pain in 5:3, and the emphasis seems to be upon the timing and expectation of a birth. There is an eschatological allusion implicit in this reference, as in other prophetic books. The phrases ‘the time’ (Mic. 5:3) and the more common ‘that day’ (e.g. Mic. 4:1, 6; 5:10, 7:11 etc.) direct our thoughts not so much to a particular time of divine intervention, but to hope in the final victory of a loving God.

The ruler will be a majestic figure and shepherd-like (5:4) but he is identified as ‘the man of peace’ (v. 5). The title becomes more explicit later in Isa. 52:7: ‘the one who announces peace’. Micah also envisions a universal rule: ‘to the ends of the earth’. (See also Isa. 45:22; Jer. 16:19).

Items for Discussion

  • Why is waiting so hard to do?
  • Is waiting easier or harder if you are suffering an injustice?
  • Is the common assignment of “a person of peace” used to describe a shepherd an accurate descriptor?
  • How are the attributes of a successful shepherd important to each Christian?

 

Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Background 4

The Gospel according to Luke is the only one of the synoptic gospels to begin with a literary prologue. Making use of a formal, literary construction and vocabulary, the author writes the prologue in imitation of Hellenistic Greek writers and, in so doing, relates his story about Jesus to contemporaneous Greek and Roman literature. Luke is not only interested in the words and deeds of Jesus, but also in the larger context of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament. As a second-or third-generation Christian, Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, but claims that his contribution to this developing tradition is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly manner, and intended to provide Theophilus (“friend of God,” literally) and other readers with certainty about earlier teachings they have received.

Like the Gospel according to Matthew, this gospel opens with an infancy narrative, a collection of stories about the birth and childhood of Jesus. The narrative uses early Christian traditions about the birth of Jesus, traditions about the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, and canticles such as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79), composed of phrases drawn from the Greek Old Testament. It is largely, however, the composition of Luke who writes in imitation of Old Testament birth stories, combining historical and legendary details, literary ornamentation and interpretation of scripture, to answer in advance the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” The focus of the narrative, therefore, is primarily christological. In this section Luke announces many of the themes that will become prominent in the rest of the gospel: the centrality of Jerusalem and the temple, the journey motif, the universality of salvation, joy and peace, concern for the lowly, the importance of women, the presentation of Jesus as savior, Spirit-guided revelation and prophecy, and the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The account presents parallel scenes (diptychs) of angelic announcements of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, and of the birth, circumcision, and presentation of John and Jesus. In this parallelism, the ascendency of Jesus over John is stressed: John is prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:76); Jesus is Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). John is great in the sight of the Lord (Luke 1:15); Jesus will be Great (a LXX attribute, used absolutely, of God) (Luke 1:32). John will go before the Lord (Luke 1:16-17); Jesus will be Lord (Luke 1:43; 2:11).

Biblical Truths 5

This section of Luke is about the message to Mary about the birth of Jesus 1:26-38:

Verse 27 Nazareth was a small town, a few miles from the south of the Lake of Galilee. It was very serious when a man and woman agreed to marry. Such an agreement could only end in an act of divorce. If the man died before the marriage, the woman considered herself as a widow.

Verse 28 The usual Jewish greeting was ‘Peace be with you’.

Verse 31 ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’. The name means ‘The Lord is Saviour’.

Verse 32 ‘son of the Most High’ was a way to say ‘son of God’. This was a name of the Messiah. ‘The Most High’ was a name for God in the Old Testament.

Verse 33 ‘The descendants of Jacob’ means the Israelites. These included King David. God promised David that his throne (rule) would never end (2 Samuel 7:16).

Verse 34 Mary wondered how she could have a son before she and Joseph had married.

Verse 35 The words ‘will rest upon’ mean that God’s glory comes down on a place or person. God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, would make it possible for Mary to have the son.

Verse 35 ‘holy, the Son of God’ means that the child would be God’s son. He would be without sin.

Verse 38 When Mary accepted what God wanted, she was taking a great risk. Perhaps Joseph would be angry. She would probably have public shame. People in the village would certainly gossip about her. A girl who promised to marry should be loyal to her future husband. If she was not loyal, she broke God’s law. Yet Mary did not doubt the angel’s message. Luke, with his sympathy for women, may have received this story from Mary herself.

Items for Discussion

  • What is good and bad about gift giving at Christmas?
  • How is the entire idea of waiting for Christ to come (anticipation) played out in our Christmas traditions?
  • What opportunities exist during Christmas to teach others about Christ?
  • What are your favorite traditions at Christmas?

Discussion Challenge

  • How can we use the opportunity of Christmas to teach our children about Christ?
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