Home » Spiritual Direction » Lectionary Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lectionary Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Micah 5:2-5a Under Siege

As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you. His origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Therefore, he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor gives birth. The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. They will dwell secure because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace. (Mic. 5:2-5 CEB)

The nation of Israel came into existence as the result of a promise of God. The birth of this nation did not come easy. It came through a time of slavery and deliverance, through times of oppression and war, of mistakes and great victories.

God had intended for the chosen people to depend on God’s love for them to for their care, safety, and direction, but alas, they acted like rebellious children. It seems we human beings want to do things our way rather than God’s and God loves us enough to allow us our freedom, even when it is the freedom to make mistakes and fail.

There came a time in their history in Israel that they wanted a king.  They were not content to let God guide them. The first one was that God allow them to have a king whose name was Saul and he made grave errors and put the nation in peril. So, God called the prophet Samuel to anoint another to be king. The person God chose was the younger son of a man named Jesse. His name was David.  David was born in a small town named Bethlehem which is translated “place of bread”.

This young boy was but a shepherd, a keeper of sheep. However, this shepherd-king became a warrior that overcame all the enemies of Israel. He led the nation to its greatest time of glory, but it did not last. When David died his son Solomon allowed strange gods to be worshipped in the land and at his death the nation split.

Once again external enemies began to rise. Once again the Nation was in peril. First, the northern kingdom fell then the southern kingdom was conquered and the people were taken into exile in Babylon.

Now, why did this happen? What would a nation loved by God have such a volatile history? Why, because God’s people pulled away from the relationship God desired to have with them. They lost their focus. They ignored God’s loving guidance and direction. But what is amazing is that God did not give up on them.

During these dark and difficult days God sent messengers with his word, he sent prophets with promises to warn and woo his people back to himself.

Micah was one of these prophets. Micah proclaimed God’s word to his people during a time that they were headed for trouble. Micah had little use for the political leaders of his day because they were more concerned with their own self-interest. He warned the people that God hates a society that feeds on itself by materially taking advantage of one another. He warned them that the enemy was at the gate. Micah warned them that they would face a hard siege.

What is a siege? The dictionary says it is to be surrounded by an enemy. It means that you have a strong force come against you to try and wear you down. It means to be cut off from needed resources in hope that you will break down and surrender. To be under siege is to be in trouble.

But again, God did not abandon God’s people. He gave Micah a message, a promise, a word of hope, a word to remind the people that God is still there, and God is aware of their condition and needs.

The passage today begins with the warning of the siege, but it also continues with a promise, a promise that reflects on what God had already done.

A reflection back on the small town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Israel’s greatest king, a reflection on a place that means place of bread, a place where hope is fed. The promise God makes is that God will send one, a ruler, who was from the beginning, one who comes from the ancient and old.

Now, what does this mean? It is a reminder of a siege that humanity had been facing since the relationship with God had been severed, since the entry of sin into human existence. It reminds us of a siege, a battle, humanity wages with a dominant sentient being who authored evil in human life through lies, deceit, and temptation. It is a reminder of the siege and victory of Genesis 3: 15, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Once again God was going to anoint a shepherd to care for the people, to care for God’s straying sheep, for all we are like sheep that have gone astray, each going our own way. This shepherd would be the Good Shepherd, the very offspring of God.

Micah tells the people that they will feel abandoned till she who is in labor gives birth to this promised ruler, this Savior, this Messiah. And shortly after the time of Micah and the other prophets, God goes silent for 400 years.

Four hundred years is a long time. I am sure many had given up. But God had not forgotten the promise. God sends one like David, one who would depend on God. One who would lead the people back to God, one who would be born in Bethlehem. And as we are told in verse 5, this one would be their peace. God kept the promise, and we celebrate the birth of the one whom Micah spoke. His name is Jesus. And this is the advent story, the Christmas story.

But there is another Christmas story. It is found in the book of Revelation. It too speaks of a time in which God’s people are under siege. It is found in Revelation 12: 1-5; 13-17, “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule1 all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne…… thrown down to the earth, he pursued1 the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. Then from his mouth, the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”

We are living this siege today. This is the story of God’s chosen people, the church, those who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the savior who leads us back to God. For 2000 years the church has been a source of power and promise. When we have followed our leader from Bethlehem. We have built a great kingdom of love and unity with God. But like Israel of old, the church has wanted to become more like the world. We have forgotten who we are to be, and we have become a kingdom divided and weak. The enemies have been gathering and once again we are under siege.

How, how are we under siege? We are surrounded by attitudes of indifference; we are continually being worn down with compromise and callousness. We are more interested in operating as a business, of creating cultural ghettos, and trying to prove to ourselves that we are still relevant in this modern age of spiritual starvation and moral meltdowns.

So, what do we do? We must remember Bethlehem. We must not make the mistake the innkeeper made by having no room for Jesus. We must make room in our hearts for our Lord. Second, we must understand we face strong enemies (enemies within and enemies outside) that surround us. We must trust God to guide us in our struggle. We must remember,“for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human,1 but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor. 10:4-5 NRS) and one more thing, we need to remember that God kept his promise to Bethlehem and that God will keep the promise made to us, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20 NRS)

It’s time to break the siege. It’s time to get ready. For Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.

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