Christmas 2a

Preached: December 28, 2008

Find Peace in Lowly Bethlehem
Micah 5:2-5a

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, our newborn King, is Micah 5

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, although you are small among the clans of Judah, yet out of you will come for me a Ruler in Israel. His origins are from of old, from days long ago. Therefore he will give them up until the one with child gives birth, and the rest of his brothers will return to the sons of Israel. He will stand and shepherd [them] in the the strength of the LORD in the name of the LORD, his God. They will live, for now he is great to the ends of the earth. He, himself, is Peace.(Micah 5:2-5a)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints who kneel at the manger of our Savior-God:

Over the years Bethlehem has seen not seen much peace. Think of what happened within the first two years after Jesus' birth when the wise men left. Herod ordered the slaughter of all the boys two years and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. No peace. Only weeping, Rachel weeping for her children refusing to be comforted.

No peace either in the centuries that followed. In the 2nd century the Romans recaptured the city during a Jewish revolt and expelled Jewish residents. In the 6th century Bethlehem was sacked and its walls and church destroyed during the Samaritan revolt. In the 7th century the Persian Sassanid Empire captured it. Soon afterwards, the Islamic caliphates took control over it. In the 11th century the crusaders captured it. In the 12th century the Muslim Saladin recaptured it. And again in the 13th century it exchanged hands between the crusaders and then back to the Muslims. The Ottoman Empire took control in the 16th century. Egypt briefly ruled it in the 1830's. Then the Ottoman rule returned from 1841 until World War I. After World War I Bethlehem was under the British Mandate. Jordan capture it in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Israel captured it in the Six-Day War of 1967. In 1995 Israel withdrew its troops and Bethlehem came under the control of the Palestinian National Authority of the West Bank. And even at the beginning of our current decade, Bethlehem was again overturned by violence in the Second Palestinian Intifada. Still no peace.

But Bethlehem is where you and I find peace, a different kind of peace. Find peace in lowly Bethlehem. That is the theme this morning. That's where the Prophet Micah directs us. Find peace in lowly Bethlehem. For there the eternal Ruler was born. That's the first part. And from there his shepherding reaches to the ends of the earth. That's the second part. Those are the reasons we find peace in lowly Bethlehem.

A. For there the eternal Ruler is born

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The text reminds us how our God works in ways so contrary to our human way of thinking. Our human experience and reason points us in one direction, but God calls us to look in an entirely different direction. For you see, faith takes God at his Word. Faith listens to what he says even though our experience and reason tell us otherwise.

Just recall what you already know about Christmas and the events at Bethlehem at our Savior's birth, and you will see how true it is that God's ways call for faith, faith that trusts his words rather than our experience and reasoning.

First, who would look for a ruler to come from such a lowly place as Bethlehem. Jerusalem was the mighty city. Yes, a thousand years earlier a ruler had come from Bethlehem, David. But that was a different era. Jerusalem wasn't even an Israelite city at that time. The wise men deduced that the King would come from Jerusalem, the ancient capital, the site of the temple, the place the Lord had chosen for his Name. But God planned it differently and foretold it for Bethlehem: “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” (Micah 5:2 NIV). So unlikely was this Bethlehem, that the prophet made it clear that it was this particular Bethlehem in Judah, in the area of Ephrathah, as small as it might be this was the one and not some other possibly greater Bethlehem somewhere. From there the Ruler would come.

Second, who would ever imagine that the eternal God would come to this earth as a helpless baby, born and laid in a manger? Yet Micah teaches us that this Ruler from Bethlehem is no one less than the eternal One: “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2 NIV). Micah point us to his birth, “Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth” (Micah 5:3 NIV). It contradicts our experience and reason. Birth marks the beginning, but eternity has no beginning. How can the eternal One be born?

But faith takes God at his Word. Think of Joseph. Who would expect a baby from a virgin's womb? But Joseph took God at his Word and took Mary home as his wife convinced that she was a virgin who would give birth to the Savior, as impossible as that is to our human experience and reason. Think of the shepherds. Who would look for a baby in an animal feed box? But that is where the shepherds looked, for that is what God told them through the angel.

So also as in faith we go to Bethlehem and look into the manger, we see him. Our human eyes see a tiny newborn, so weak and helpless. Yes, this baby Jesus is truly a human being. But faith knows and confesses that this baby is also the eternal God, the Son of the Father. This baby has no beginning and no end. There was never a time he was not. He is the mighty God, the Ruler over all creation. He holds the universe in his hand. And yet he exchanged his heavenly throne for this lowly manger in little Bethlehem. What mystery! The eternal Ruler was born!

So also today we find our eternal Ruler and the peace he brings in the most unlikely place. We don't find his peace in the ways celebrated by the world or sold with money-back guarantees. We don't find it in the Jerusalems of our day, but in the lowly Bethlehem of his Word and Sacraments. Yes, the Scriptures and the Sacraments are the manger that holds our eternal Ruler and brings him to us. Even though our experience and reason may insist that there are other ways more meaningful or exciting, faith looks to the Scriptures and the Sacraments alone to find our Savior and the peace he brings. Whatever else is out there either brings a different, temporary kind of peace that will not last or else it brings you his peace only to the extent that it is based on the Scriptures and the Sacraments. For they alone are the true source. To find peace go to the lowly Bethlehem of the Scriptures and the Sacraments for the bring you the eternal Ruler who was born for you.

B. From there his shepherding reaches to the ends of the earth

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For from his Word and sacraments the eternal Ruler shepherds you. “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. And he will be their peace” (Micah 5:4, 5 NIV).

Although Bethlehem was a small provincial town, Jesus was born not only as the Savior for that town or that people, but from there his peace reaches to the ends of the earth, it reaches to you. For he is your Shepherd. That is what makes his peace different than any others.

As your Shepherd, he laid down his life for you. For sheep like you and me who love to wander, he laid down his life for you. He took up his life again so that no one will snatch you out of his hand. Such a Shepherd!

With him as our Shepherd, we have peace. First of all, peace with God. For he ended our warfare against God by paying for our sins with his life. He reconciled you to God through his death. In him we also have peace with our fellow sheep. For since he has taken away our great debt of sin against God, who are we not to forgive those who sin against us and live at peace with them, especially those who are our fellow sheep. And as much as it is possible, the peace that our Shepherd brings us enables us to strive to live at peace even with those outside his flock. This is not a peace that compromises with unbelief, but a peace that is willing to suffer being wronged in order to win others for Christ, so that they to know the peace that the Shepherd brings, his peace that reaches to the ends of the earth.

Again this is contrary to our human experience and reasoning. Such a life seems to be weak and dangerous. Won't others abuse our forgiveness and take advantage of us? And often as we stand with our Savior and refuse to compromise with unbelief, life seems to be anything but peaceful. But remember who your Shepherd is. He is the eternal Ruler. He protects you as you listen to his voice. He keeps you safe as you follow him. He gives you eternal life through his Word and Sacraments. So follow him in faith, despite what human experience or reason might say.

Find peace in lowly Bethlehem not earthly peace which that war-torn town may never have, but spiritual peace, peace with God. For there your eternal Ruler was born. From there his shepherding extends to the ends of the earth his shepherding shepherds you, for he is your peace. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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