Scripture Reading • Micah 5:2-4 (NIV)
“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.”
Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
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.
For a few Christmases, Sarah and I made Christmas stockings for gifts. (We stopped making the stockings, after we realized Hobby Lobby sold pretty nice stockings for a dollar a piece … between the cost of the fabric and all the time … a dollar seemed like a good deal!)
Sarah and I had a good system for making those stockings.
I cut out the cloth and pinned the pieces together while Sarah sewed.
The best part was watching super cheesy Christmas specials on Netflix while we worked.
- I know I am treading on some dangerous ground here. A lot of people love these movies … so I don’t want to offend anyone when I say what comes next.
We noticed some patterns in those movies.
There were a lot of stories that were driven by a clash between big-city-professional lifestyles and an idyllic small-town-way-of-life.
Usually the storylines went like this – a busy professional would return to their hometown or a big-city family would somehow get stranded in a sleepy-little-hard-times-town (often the coal mine had closed or the pudding factory was in danger of shutting down). The swanky and impatient city dweller hates that podunk place and can’t leave fast enough. Their fast paced lives clash and grate against the small-town-locals values, but eventually small-town charm (or falling in love) win them over and the big-city-people embrace the small-town way of life.
I think these movies actually catch some truth about Christmas.
When we look at the Christmas story from the perspectives of ancient Israel’s prophets and from the New Testament Gospels we see a collision of cultures and values. It’s not necessarily big-city and small-town values that collide (though we see this in Micah’s prophecies, Micah was from a small town and hated the way powerful people of his time failed to work for the well-being of his community). In scripture, we see that Christmas reveals two kingdoms and their values, and warns us both kingdoms are pointed toward a head-on collision. In Jesus, the kingdoms of the world and their values meet the kingdom of God and God’s values … Jesus and the people who encounter him and trust him make the claim that there is something deeply flawed and inadequate with the values of the kingdoms of the world.
The Prophet Micah was a voice for the underdog.
Micah looked around … he saw the state of things in his country … the corruption of political and religious leaders. He saw prophets who told people what they wanted to hear and what would benefit themselves. Micah could see his people’s unfaithfulness. He could see painful consequences on the horizon. He could see how different the kingdoms of the world were from the kingdom of God. Micah could also see God acting in the future to make things right and to establish a kingdom, from the family and spirit of David, Israel’s most beloved king, a kingdom that would last forever. Micah saw God bringing this all about from someone small … a shepherd king who would look out for the good and wellbeing of all God’s people … from a little and overlooked place.
This passage Russell shared with us is probably the most familiar from the Gospel of Matthew, when the wise men (or magi) who have been following the star ask King Herod where they might find the new king.
Read • Matthew 2.1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
For Matthew, Jesus’ birth introduces a conflict between two kingdoms – Herod and Rome’s kingdom, and Christ’s, the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew is convinced Christ’s kingdom is vastly superior to Herod’s kingdom.
Did you notice the details in the story? The magi didn’t do anything to honor Herod as king. They didn’t bow. They didn’t offer a gift. They didn’t greet him with honor. They barged right in and asked Herod where they could find ““… the one who has been born king of the Jews … We saw his star … and have come to worship him.” The magi asked Herod for directions like he was a GPS or a convenience store clerk. They didn’t have any interest in honoring Herod. They wanted to honor the new king. This frightened Herod. Somehow he sensed this child was a threat to his power.
Herod reminds me a lot of the rulers Micah had such a problem with … the ones who used their positions to build themselves up and protect themselves at the expense of the people they had been entrusted to care for.
Micah’s promise of a ruler who “… 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” (Micah 5.4) represents a kingdom that is very different from the kingdoms of the world.
Micah, Matthew, and Jesus, himself, know God’s kingdom, the kingdom Jesus came to bring and reveal to us, is the kingdom that will last … the kingdom that will endure the head on collision.
As we celebrate Christmas, as we celebrate Christ’s first arrival in that manger in Bethlehem, and as we look forward to Christ’s return in power and glory, we are invited to align ourselves with Christ’s kingdom … to live by his values … to worship and serve Christ before anyone or any other kingdom.
Because Christ’s kingdom is the kingdom that will last.