O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Peace: Within and Without
Peace: Within and Without
Based on Micah 5:2-5a
Preached on December 23, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, and united children of the heavenly Father, a young boy heard the call he'd been waiting for all day, "Come for dinner." The pitter patter of his feet running down the stairs sounded his excitement. It was Christmas dinner. That special dinner that only comes once a year. The house was filled with delicious aromas. The table was set to perfection. The soft hum of Christmas carols sang from a distant room. The boy was so excited to share this special time with his family.
But when he climbed into his chair, and looked around the table, immediately he could tell that something wasn't right. An uncomfortable silence occupied certain seats at the table. His mother tried to fill the awkwardness with cheerful comments, but they were eaten quickly by the quiet. The little boy noticed his older siblings weren't making eye contact. He could feel a tension fill the room. The room felt cold to him, though others seemed to be boiling with anger. Eyes darted towards the exits as people communicated their desire to leave. He had hoped this wouldn't happen - at least not on Christmas - but the weight was undeniable. His family was not at peace.
For the last couple weeks, he'd been listening to their grumblings. He could tell everyone wanted to be heard, and for what it was worth, he had listened. That was his job as the youngest. Listen. Listen. Listen. He had never shared his thoughts. At least not yet. It hadn't been the right time. As the youngest sibling, he would only get one shot, and his timing had to be perfect. As he sat at the table he began to wonder, "Is this it? Is this my chance?"
In our Old Testament reading this morning, the words of the prophet Micah entered a divided situation just like this. The family of Israel, the twelve tribes, the twelve sons, were completely divided. They had not shared a ruler for three hundred years, not since the reign of King David. And in reality, David was the only good king that ever united God's people. Christmas dinner? They could not look at each other. They could not even come to the table together. In fact, that had even gone to war against each other. God's family was not at peace. Not with each other, and not with Him. Not only had these brothers turned on one another, they had turned on their heavenly Father as well. Yet it is into this broken scene of hostility that the words of Micah come riding in.
"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days."
God promises to send a ruler that will reunite His family. He promises to bring His family back to the table together. But, He says, this isn't going to happen in some sort of oppressive way. His family will not be forced together, they will be drawn together. For this ruler will come forth from the most meager of places, from those who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from Bethlehem Ephrathah. He will willingly take the lowest position, make Himself the youngest child at the table, even though His coming forth is from of old, from ancient times. This humble ruler has been listening to his siblings grumble for centuries. He has been waiting patiently for the perfect time to say something, because as the youngest sibling, He may only get one shot. His Father sends Him, not to be their judge, but to be their peace, and reconcile them to their Father and to one another.
But even with this incredible promise, it doesn't mean things are going to be easy for the family right away. Instead, as Micah continues, "[The Father] shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth." There are going to be labour pains, birth pains. Before they can enjoy the peace in its fullness, God's family will have to suffer at the hands of their enemies, they will have to remain divided until the right time. But they know that baby will be born. Even during the suffering, they look forward to their deliverance with joyful expectation. They have the certainty of peace to come.
Now for some it might seem hard to persevere. How are we ever going to make it? But there is incredible depth in God's promise. It is a promise that the family can really hold onto. For in all their history up to this point, the twelve tribes of Israel have only experienced two periods of unity and peace, and BOTH of them are embedded within the words of this promise. God is layering His faithfulness into His promise to give them lasting confidence. The first time there was peace was when all twelve sons were finally born, when the whole family of Israel finally came into being, and the second time was when they were united under King David, as we heard before. Follow me as we take a closer look at this promise.
A woman in labour must give birth to a son in Bethlehem to bring about this peace, as Micah says, "then the rest of the brothers shall return to the people of Israel." This is the prophecy. But the people knew God had already done this once before - for this is how Israel became a family in the first place. Jacob had only eleven sons as he and his family were travelling through the land. Suddenly, Rachel his wife went into labour and gave birth to the twelfth son, and where did this happen? Bethlehem. This is the only other significant thing that has ever happened in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the place where Israel first became a family. It is where they were united. So when the people hear that a woman in labour must give birth to a son in Bethlehem and this will bring about peace for Israel, they believe it. God has linked His promise to the first period of peace they ever shared.
But that is not all, God adds a second layer of their history into His promise. A ruler will come forth from Bethlehem, who will rule all of Israel, all the tribes, and He will shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD. This is the prophecy. But this too God has already done once before - it is how Israel was united under a good king. David, the shepherd boy, was born in the city that now bears his name - Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the place where Israel first got a good king, one that brought them peace. So when the people hear that a ruler will come forth from Bethlehem, who will rule all of Israel, and He will shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, they believe it. God has linked this future king to all the peaceful memories this family has ever had. This promised king is the only thing they have to hold onto.
And He is faithful. For all of these things are truly pointing forward to the prince of peace. All of these layers are built up for the birth of God's Son, the humble baby, boy, born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem. The time is right. It's time for Him to speak. It's time for Him to restore peace in the family. To draw all people to Himself by His innocent death on the cross. To restore His Father's favor to those who have fouled up the family. And it all begins at Christmas dinner.
Christ has fulfilled His Father's plan for His family. He calls us all home. He promises we will find our Father's open arms, because He Himself is our peace, who has made us all one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. He has filled up the awkward silence with His own blood and has called us to the same table to drink it. He has drawn our eyes away from the exits to His body on the cross, and raised His voice at just the right time - "You are forgiven. Please come back."
The birth of this king, this Jesus means peace for you. Peace with your heavenly Father, and peace with your fellow believer. God's family may continue to suffer today, to groan with the pains of labour, waiting for the day when we will be delivered, for the day when Christ will come back - but we know that day will come. We have the certainty of peace to come, and rejoice in the salvation God has won for us. For we shall dwell secure, for our peace, this Jesus shall be great to the ends of the earth, for He has risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity.
The mansion was filled with delicious aromas. The table was set to perfection. The soft hum of Christmas carols chimed in the distance. The Son was so excited to share this special time with His family. He turned to His Heavenly Father and waited patiently for that moment He worked so hard to prepare - the moment His Father would call out "Come for dinner." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr