Micah 4 & 5
Festival of the Reign of Christ the King
It’s Reign of Christ Sunday, also called Christ the King Sunday. And on this final Sunday before Advent, I want us to think together about everything we’ve considered this fall and then start looking forward. Advent is all about anticipating, waiting, expecting, and so let’s start doing that this week.
We’ve been focusing this fall on covenant, a sacred commitment to relationship, initiated by God on behalf of people, that shapes our identity and our conduct. In the Old Testament God invites the Ancient Hebrews into several covenants, some of those have regulations about how the covenant will be carried out. But they are always about one thing: representing God in the world, demonstrating what life can be like when we live in healthy relationship with God and one another. We Christians see these Old Testament folks as our spiritual ancestors and through Christ we enter into the concepts of these covenants. We trust that God is up to good, not out to get us, not angry and looking for a reason to destroy, but loving the world and willing to bear the heartbreaking weight of our evil. We are blessed, not for our own sake but in order to be a blessing. We are called to live as “peculiar people” a holy priesthood, who as a community can really truly show what the world could be like if we all chose to live in line with God’s way of love. We have The Law, a lot of specific directions about how to live, and we also have principles like “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” We know that this life is a specific choice that we each make and that we all make because if we aren’t deliberate about it, our collective community tendencies are towards greed, and violence, and religious hypocrisy, which does not honor God and which apparently God will only allow to continue for so long before something drastic happens to change the course. Ultimately we know that the desire for justice and mercy and humility has to come from within us; we’re not going to get there by following the rules for their own sake or to get a reward or to avoid a punishment. The final covenant is one of internal motivation, the law of God written on our hearts, which enables us to truly love God and one another and live as representatives of God’s love in the world.
So how’s that going for us? I’m going to go out on a limb and say not great. We individually are good at it sometimes. But the tidal pull of culture seems to move us in the wrong direction together, even when we try hard as individuals. We see progress, yes, but not what we long for. Friends, it has always been this way. As we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, as we anticipate the Reign of Christ, as we prepare our hearts for Advent, let’s take a look at what kind of ruler we are waiting for and what the world will be like when that ruler is made manifest.
We are reading this morning from the book of Micah, which is where our church mission comes from, Micah chapter 6 verses 6 though 8. We are going to start this morning in chapter 5 and then go back to chapter 4. In your pew Bibles, this is the very bottom of page 1145. Micah chapter 5. Micah is a prophet from the margins who was speaking to the elite in Jerusalem after the downfall of the norther kingdom of Israel but before the downfall of the southern kingdom of Judah. Even at this time, the trajectory was clear. This book is an interesting mixture of warnings about what could happen and comfort about God’s presence and plans for restoration after the worst has happened. Remember that culture trickles down from the top. So if there’s going to be a restored land, a world where all things are reconciled, it is still going to need a figurehead, someone to lead. But the question is what kind of leader? What kind of leader would be able to avoid the temptations of wealth and power. Micah shares of vision of this person in chapter 5 verses 2 through 5.
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.
Let me unpack this for us. It’s poetic prophecy so there are several possible interpretations. Here’s what I think is important for us this morning. Bethlehem was the home city of King David, so the prophet is calling the people back to the origins of their most beloved king, the one after God’s own heart. But not to David, because David went wrong. He gave in to the temptations of wealth and power and it decimated his family. The prophet maybe saying that the one we are waiting for will come from Bethlehem, but not David. Or at least not David the way he ended up. The word for “king” is not used here. This is a different kind of ruling. We need someone who was like David at the beginning. A shepherd. And what does this ruler do? Stand and feed the flock, provide nourishment and care. How? In the strength of the Lord, not with military might, not with war machines. And how else? In the majesty of the name of the Lord, with God receiving the honor and the credit, according to God’s prestige, not the ruler’s earthly prestige. “And they shall live secure, for now he will be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” That’s the kind of ruler we anticipate.
And what kind of world will that ruler lead? This is back one chapter, Micah chapter 4 verses 1 through 5. Very short.
But in the days to come,
the mountain of the Lord’s temple
will be the highest of the mountains;
it will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will go and say:
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God,
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths!”
Instruction will come from Zion
and the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
God will judge between the nations
and settle disputes of mighty nations,
which are far away.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
All will sit underneath their own grapevines,
under their own fig trees.
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of heavenly forces has spoken.
From strength to strength, may we be strengthened. Thanks be to God.
In this restored world where the Good Shepherd cares for the flock, we shall beat our swords into plowshares and study war no more. Imagine, beloved ones, what would be possible if all of the time, energy, and resources currently devoted to weaponry was devoted to agriculture. Do you know that the country of Somalia is approaching actual famine status, which is the UN’s highest classification of food crisis, where there’s a significant death rate from outright starvation. You know why? Because they are experiencing the worst drought in decades and 90% of their wheat comes from, guess where? — Ukraine and Russia. And Ukraine is where all the humanitarian aid attention has been going this year. Beloved ones, can you imagine if the focus of our nation was not how to kill our enemies but how to feed our enemies? We wouldn’t have any enemies. Problem is, I can’t see that happening, can you? It’s not realistic.
But it could be. We could technically get there on our own. The problem isn’t that we don’t know how. God has already told us what is good and what God requires from us is to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We have The Law, which if we kept it, would lead to a good world. The problem isn’t that we don’t know how. The problem is that as a culture, as a world, we just won’t do it. Perhaps at a deep level we actually can’t. We keep relying on external motivations, especially fear and shame, and it doesn’t work. Who will show us how? Who will lead us? Who will save us, rescue us, heal us, give us victory? We are longing. We are waiting. We are anticipating this Good Shepherd who will show us the way. Advent is coming. Amen.