"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." Therefore, He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth. And this One will be our peace."
Advent 4 December 21, 2022
He Will Arise and Shepherd His Flock
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The run-up to Christmas is so often about gifts and parties, family and fun, the gleam in a child s eye as they anticipate the stocking filled with candies and try to guess what is in those presents under the tree -- and the excitement of the season. Television shouts the excitement, and we all remember the excitement of our Christmases past. But today I don t want to focus on the excitement, but on something better. I want to focus on the promised peace of Christmas. That focus was suggested to me by the last words of our text, And this One will be our peace.
Throughout Advent this year we talked about the Shepherds of Israel. Israel really only has one true Shepherd, as you know. The rest of us, faithful or unfaithful, are merely underlings, sub-shepherds. In the church today, we know Him by name. The name of our Shepherd is Jesus Christ. He announced who He was in John 10, the Good Shepherd chapter. When He did that, He was not reaching for a warm and fuzzy image, He was making clear to those who would listen that He was the One who fulfilled the prophecy of our text, particularly the words of verse four, which form the title of this sermon, And He will arise and shepherd His flock.
We know of this prophecy almost as if by accident. Most people don't know where to find it. The Scribes and the Priests did not name the prophet in Matthew's account, where they dug the information up for Herod so he could share it with the Magi, the Wise Men from the East. It was almost an incidental piece of travel information in the story. But this is the prophecy which was chosen long ago as the Christmas Old Testament Lesson. It was probably chosen because it named Bethlehem as the place where the Child was to be found, but there is so much more here.
Micah was roughly contemporaneous with Isaiah. He, too, prophesied against the idolatry and wickedness of Israel. He also foretold the coming destruction of Judah and Israel. He named the Assyrians as the peoples who would come and lay waste to the holy city. And like Isaiah, he spoke of the salvation of God which would preserve His people, and of the Messiah who would come.
In the second verse of our text, Micah says that God will give up His people for a time. That time is what we call the Babylonian Captivity. Micah sees that time as lasting right up until she who is in labor has borne a child. That woman was to be Mary, and the child was the One to born in Bethlehem, by Micah s account, a no-account little town, but still the place where One would be born to go forth for God and be a ruler over His people and the Shepherd of His flock.
We know that Micah meant Jesus, because he speaks of the one to be born as one whose goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity – and because of Matthew's account, of course. In the prophetic vision, the captivity of Israel would last until the coming of the Messiah, and immediately He would bring peace and unity to God's people. Historically, the captivity in Babylon ended five hundred years before the birth of this One, and that eternal unity was begun with His birth – but is not complete in any outward sense even now. But note, too, that the work of God, begun in the Babylonian Captivity, did not really come to it's goal and purpose until the birth of Christ.
That work of eternal unity and peace is begun, however, as Jesus has knit all believers into that mystical body of which He is the ever-living Head. We are all one people, one family in Christ, adopted, as Ephesians two says, into the household of God. He has begun and still performs what Micah prophesied of Him -- He has arisen, even from the dead, and Shepherds His flock in the strength of the Lord. He guides and guards and keeps us. He does it through the Word of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual nourishment of the Holy Sacrament.
The part of the prophesy that caught my eye is the part about how they shall remain. Christ's work and Christ's people are a lasting work and an eternal people. We shall remain. This little Babe whose birth we will soon celebrate is the One who gives us eternal life and salvation.
Think about it. We do not celebrate Christmas for the sake of the Baby, really. We might get lost now and then in the tinsel and the hoopla, but we don t celebrate for the toys, or the football games, or the big dinner. We don t really even celebrate for the joy of having our families together again, in fact, families are quickly becoming the reason why so many do not gather with us to celebrate. We celebrate because Jesus is the reason we shall remain.
Death cannot take us. Illness can only discomfort us for a short while. The sweeping tide of human opinion cannot brush Him or us aside, although they will never acknowledge us as the center and the reason God has for continuing His blessing on this benighted globe. We shall live forever with Him because of this One born in Bethlehem.
This is our peace. We shall not die, but when the sleep we call death comes to our bodies we shall be with the Lord, and ultimately even these bodies shall rise to new life, repaired and outfitted for eternity. The aches and the pains shall be gone. At their very worst, they are temporary, in Jesus Christ. Then comes glory where fear and sickness and death cannot enter and cannot spoil.
All the precious promises and blessings that we spoke of in the Twenty-third Psalm are wrapped up in Jesus. The green pastures, the still waters, the restoration and refreshment which we sense only dimly in this life through the Word and Sacraments will be ours in fullest measure in Jesus Christ.
And we shall be reunited with those whom we love who have also loved Jesus. We shall see them and know their presence and delight in their company as we live together in the full glory of the Lord. The harsh sorrow of the bitter passing and parting will be forgotten in the bright joy of reunion. And that reunion will be all the more sweet as we taste the fullness of the promises which we now can only see by faith. There will be no taint of sin. There will be no blurring of tears and sorrow. There will be no pain of any sort, and no more threat of death. It will be warm and wonderful and filled with peace.
Because of the Babe of Bethlehem. It will not be the manger – or the Wise Men – or the friendly beasts which capture our attention, but Jesus Christ who suffered that we might inherit peace, and died that we might have everlasting life. This One shall be our peace!
We shall be wrapped in the love of God as in an old, familiar, favorite quilt, kept warm and secure and knowing all the while that nothing can harm us, that there is no enemy, no lurking danger to rob the moment of its peace and joy. Our text says, Because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.
He will finally be the fully known and fully experienced reality of our existence. We will not face Him trembling and ashamed, for our sins will have been wiped away. We will do and desire no evil thing. We shall know God as Adam and Eve knew God, with joy and pleasure in the knowing, and nothing to interrupt or spoil our fellowship with Him. He will be all things to all people and all who are in His presence will rejoice, in that day.
Meanwhile, He shepherds us today. He bids us remember His birth -- one of the greatest moments in history, when God stooped down and took on human nature and flesh and blood to save us. As thrilling as that is, it is the peace of the Good Shepherd which should mark our celebration. Are we sorrowing? He shall wipe every tear away from our eyes. Are we sick? He shall heal all our weaknesses and illnesses and banish them away from us forever. Do fear what the future may hold? He shall end all fears and give us to live in the power of His glory. St. John wrote by God s inspiration that perfect love casts out fear. We shall know perfect love, His love.
He shall arise and Shepherd His flock. Here He tends us with His Word, feeds us with His own body and blood, and gives us one another to hold onto and to encourage one another and love one another. In the power of His Spirit, let Him lead you into His peace, as we ponder the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation. It is not something unknown and mysterious, but something so wonderful that we could not have imagined it ourselves, but God did, and He has revealed it to us!
We prepare our hearts to truly celebrate Christmas this year, wrapped in the love and peace of our heavenly Father -- who gives us His peace in and through Jesus Christ, the little Baby in the manger in Bethlehem, and who Shepherds us tenderly and faithfully.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
He Will Arise and Shepherd His Flock