“From little Bethlehem”

“Each night, we secretly huddled around the wireless,” she remembered, “eagerly hoping to receive some coded message that meant, ‘Invasion Begun.’ We scanned the skies looking for Allied planes. People walked along the dikes, hoping for ships on the horizon. We prayed. People in Holland were starving. Could we endure another year of Nazi occupation?”[1]


That’s how an old Dutch woman remembers the dark days of 1944 as Holland waited for redemption. Can you imagine? What is it like to be a besieged people, trying to keep your spirits up, straining for news of deliverance, awaiting someone, something, to come and save you?

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

​Micah 5:2-5a

December 19, 2021

Dr. Todd R. Wright “Each night, we secretly huddled around the wireless,” she remembered, “eagerly hoping to receive some coded message that meant, ‘Invasion Begun.’ We scanned the skies looking for Allied planes. People walked along the dikes, hoping for ships on the horizon. We prayed. People in Holland were starving. Could we endure another year of Nazi occupation?”[1] That’s how an old Dutch woman remembers the dark days of 1944 as Holland waited for redemption. Can you imagine? What is it like to be a besieged people, trying to keep your spirits up, straining for news of deliverance, awaiting someone, something, to come and save you?

 

Micah knows. He grew up in the little Judean town of Moresheth, in the eighth century BC, amongst orchards and fields and herds of sheep and goats, but also walls and watchtowers. Strategic roads crossed the area bringing news from Jerusalem as well as the Northern Kingdom; mostly bad news! It was a time of upheaval. Mighty Assyria was threatening. During his lifetime Israel fell and Judah tried to stave off invasion by paying tribute. The poor and powerless bore the greatest price. Micah’s audience needed deliverance. I’m not sure what they expected, but it probably wasn’t, “O Bethlehem, from you will come forth one who is to rule Israel!” Bethlehem was tiny, insignificant, trivial. Oh, they could brag that David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, was born there – much like little towns in America have signs trumpeting that they are the birthplace of some sports star, or musician, or actress. But that had been over 200 years before Micah was born. They are living in the past and everyone else has moved on. Bruce Springsteen knows. He sings of a former speedball pitcher, a girl who used to be able to turn all the boys’ heads, and a guy who worked 20 years on the line at the Ford plant – all of them trying to recapture their glory days.[2] Micah shakes his head. He is not sitting at the bar reminiscing. He is talking about what God is doing now! He is talking about how God is responding to the people’s prayers. Like last time, God will choose the unlikely, the small, the unexpected. But this time God will not elevate a shepherd boy to a warrior-king. This time God will choose a shepherd who will draw on God’s power to bring shalom. Shalom may be one of the few Hebrew words that most people know. It means peace ... but also wholeness. Micah is saying that God knows that the people need more than an end to war. They need a sense of security that no walls or troops or treaties can bring. They need to be healed. They need to be made whole. That’s what God is promising!

 

So this season, when we sing, “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie …”[3] let’s not move too quickly to the Christmas pageant story with Mary and Joseph and no room at the inn for the baby to be born. Let’s take a moment and remember that when we sing, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight …” God was responding to the real fears and fragile hopes and fervent prayers of the people there in Judah, Micah’s people. For Micah’s people, the threat was Assyria. For that Dutch woman, it was Nazi occupation. What is threatening us? What do our plaintive prayers sound like? If Micah was with us today, he’d see people tired of COVID: tired of masking, tired of being at risk; exhausted by the impact of the disease on their kids and their jobs, the need to learn new skills and the grief of loved ones lost. He’d see people who’ve been trapped in marriages that brought the worst out in them and in their spouses – loving people made unlovely by the bile of anger and betrayal, resentment and revenge, and seen that bile sprayed all over their children. He’d see people who have fought (and are fighting) cancer and heart disease, breathing problems and crippling arthritis. They have resolve and optimism and bravery that will not quit, but the disease is relentless and merely waits for a more opportune time. He’d see people who have been consumed by jobs, eaten alive by debt, sucked dry by an addiction, drowned by depression and grief. In short, he’d see a people who are broken in all sorts of ways, people in need of healing and wholeness, people waiting for God’s deliverance.

 

Here’s the good news: the God Micah preached about, the God who cared for the people of Judah, the God who loved them despite their powerlessness and their self-inflicted wounds, has not given up. the God who delights in surprising everybody by using the runts of the litter, the has-beens and never-weres, the unskilled and the unnoticed, hasn’t changed M.O.s. the God who chose Bethlehem, twice, is ready to inspire us from there again! So you don’t need to huddle around the wireless, or look to the skies, or peer out to sea. The invasion has already begun. God has come into our midst, in answer to our prayers. Amen

[1] I’ve lost the source of this. Sorry! [2] from the song, “Glory Days” [3] from the hymn by Phillip Brooks
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