2021-12-19 Advent 4
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
All the years we lived in Oxbow we would travel highway 39 to Moose Jaw and back. We’ve travelled it so many times, I could probably drive it in my sleep! And this was despite the almost continuous road construction. In fact, there was even an Internet meme going around that said “Be like Highway 39. Never quit working on yourself!” But when you travel a certain road enough, you get to know it well and all the towns along it without skipping a beat. You get to know all the pit stops and coffee shops along the way too. We used to hit up Tim Hortons’ in Estevan to grab a coffee before the trip and then stop at Tim Hortons’ in Weyburn for pit stop and maybe a “pretty donut” for the kids. If you know that highway, just south east of Weyburn there is a little town right alongside the highway with like 3 houses and dog agility course. I guess it would be more of a hamlet than a town. And, it’s called “Ralph.” Ralph, SK. That’s always cracked me up. “Ralph.” But now we live in Moose Jaw so who’s poking fun about town names!
My point for bringing this up, is that most little towns like Ralph don’t usually win community of year awards. Travel magazines don’t feature them. Most people don’t know they even exist. If a meteorite fell on it and scorched it into oblivion, nobody would know the difference! There’s zillions of towns like this across the globe and nobody gives them a second thought. Another little place that I’m sure we’ve heard of once or twice before was Bethlehem. It was kind of like Ralph. A sleepy little no account town, just outside of Jerusalem. Blink twice and you miss it. When we think of Bethlehem, we automatically start humming that familiar Christmas Carol. It wasn’t a very big or populace place, it wasn’t the place where all the cool kids lived. It was kind of a dump! Little and lowly. But despite all that, it had a very important destiny.
On this last Sunday in Advent, we hear from another prophet. This time though, it’s not a very scary sounding one like Zephaniah or Habakkuk or Haggai. This time, it’s Micah which means “who is like God?” Even though his name isn’t in the same leagues as his frightening friends, Micah was called to preach just like the others. He was sent by God to deliver a message of repentance for wicked sin, but also a prophecy about the coming King. He wrote “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” (Micah 5:2).
From that little, no account hick town will come the One. He will be ruler in Israel. His coming has been prophesied for ages and ages! The promised Messiah will be born in the little town of Bethlehem. The prophet is met with jeers and mocking. ‘Are you even a prophet?!’ The people respond. ‘How can the Messiah come from there? Jerusalem, yes! But Bethlehem? No way! They don’t even have a Tim Horton’s there!’ But Micah doesn’t cave in to their peer pressure. “Don’t doubt the Word of God! As surely as I have prophesied, God will do it.”
And, it was true! From that little town, the Savior was born. And like all things Biblical, there are many layers of meaning to it. “Bethlehem” literally means “house of bread.” Back in the early days, it was a big grain farming area, grain that the people used for making bread. Wheat and barley grew there in abundance and were harvested, ground up and baked into loaves for the people to eat. How fitting then that Jesus would be born there, for later as He grew, He would say “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
So, from a community of grain growers and bread bakers and sheep shepherds comes the Lord of life, the promised Messiah of old. Oh, the scandal of it all! Most people would think that a King of Kings and Lord of Lords would come from someplace … nice. Someplace of reputation and importance. Someplace of power and influence. Someplace like … Boharm! It sounds crazy, and yet, God chooses the humble little town of Bethlehem to bring forth the salvation of the universe. Much the same, He also chose the humble Virgin Mary to be the place where the miracle would happen. Not in kings courts, not from kingly halls, Jesus is born of common people in a commoner’s town. The complete opposite of what we should think God would do!
King Herod thought for sure this ruler from Bethlehem would be a mighty man of valour, a fierce warrior who would rise up and lead the people against the Romans. He sent out his spies to look for such a man. But it was the Wise men from the East though that read the Scriptures and knew that the prophesied King would not be a valiant warrior or a mighty military commander. They realized that the Messiah would be a baby! They understood Micah’s 800 year old prophecy. “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel” (Micah 5:3).
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:1-6).
Of course Herod was nervous. He didn’t want to lose his earthly kingdom and position of honour over the people. He was a self-seeking tyrannical leader, like so many politicians are. But Jesus is born the good king and the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. This was our Lord’s mission! He came to die for you and me that we may be victorious over our true enemies: sin and death. And, this good king and good shepherd still watches over His flock. Where and how does He do this? Right here, in this house of bread! He feeds us with His own self. Here the precious promises of the newborn king are given to us first hand in the true Body and Blood of Christ, the shepherd who was slain for us. Here he feeds us, strengthens us and keeps us in the one true Christian faith unto life everlasting.
Nothing can take away God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. And Love is our final Advent theme. We’ve had Hope, Peace, Joy and now the amazingly unexpected Love of God all around the unending circle of our Advent wreath. In a miraculous way that defies logic and reason, Christ our Lord was born in the little no account town of Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to make this real for us. No one can separate you from Him, for He seals that heavenly promise of Love and forgiveness in His own death and blood. From the manger to the cross, He gives to you His divine life, in His church, His House of Bread. The prophecy was spoken and has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus who for love has done the unimaginable and become Emmanuel, God with us, forever. Thanks and praise be to our Bread of Life now and forever more at the Advent of our King. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!