Text: Micah 5:2-5a
Date: Advent IV + 12/20/15
Is God still in charge? And how can we tell? God’s word is full of promises, promises of salvation of healing of blessing and of peace. Yet we ask “Is God still in charge?” because a lot of the time we do not see His salvation, healing, blessing or peace.
That question came to mind as I studied our Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah. Like the other prophets, his contemporary Isaiah or Zephaniah after him, they each echo the same divine message, a message of judgment against sin, then an invitation to repentance, and finally a message of promise, the promise of salvation, healing, blessing and peace. Like his friend Isaiah Micah predicts that the Savior, the Messiah would be born into the world through a woman. Unlike any of the other prophets, however, he nails the promise to a particular place if not a particular time. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah…from you shall come forth…one who is to be ruler in Israel.” Almost everyone from the beginning accepted this as the promised birthplace of the Messiah and the woman in labor the blessed Virgin Mary. This is the passage to which the rabbis pointed to direct the Magi on their visit from the East.
But now I ask again, is God still in charge, in control of things? I ask because of the fact that the holy family did not even live in Bethlehem but in Nazareth. Sometimes God’s control appears serendipitous, random, left to chance. After all it was only as Caesar Augustus happened upon the idea of decreeing that all the world should be registered that Joseph then had to go to his hometown, Royal David’s City and birthplace, Bethlehem. And it just happened that “while they were there, the time came for [Mary] to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son” (Lk 2:2-7). So I ask again, does God work, arrange or guide things through often unexpected circumstances for us? How did you come to saving faith in Christ?
Think about that for a moment. What if I never would have been enrolled in Minneapolis Lutheran High School but rather stayed grudgingly at Marshal Public High School? What if I never would have followed friends to Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota? What if I never would have met certain professors and classmates who influenced my spiritual life? And the “what ifs” go on and on in greater or lesser detail. The best explanation the world can come up with is “luck,” or maybe “destiny.” To what extent was God involved leading, arranging, guiding? And how about you? How many times or decisions in your past could have been different leading you to other outcomes?
One would wonder if the prophet himself wondered at the words he was given by God’s Spirit to speak and to write. Bethlehem? The little town of Bethlehem? Yet the Lord says, “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” And this would be no earthly ruler or king because the prophet further says His “origin is from of old, from ancient days,” in other words from that dark, unimaginable time before time, namely eternity! He will come “when she who is in labor has given birth.” Who is she? But because of His rule and reign God’s people will be shepherded, strengthened by God. “And they shall dwell secure…and he shall be their peace.” Great promises. Almost unbelievable, right?
Because we know the rest of the story we can in hindsight see God’s hand working, arranging, guiding the events of history to bring about the birth and work, the tragedy and victory of His Son the Savior of the world. Besides that, we are comforted by Scripture to believe that all our days and all our ways are in God’s hands ultimately for our salvation, healing, blessing and peace. To all who belong to Christ through baptism into His death for the forgiveness of our sins all of God’s promises to His people become yours.
Just to name a few: Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” Isaiah 49:15-16, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” And of course that great promise from John 14:1-3, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
But what about the details of everyday life? How can I know that God is indeed in control, leading, guiding? Other than our heavenly goal we have no promises concerning what our vocation will be, who will be my spouse, how many children, if any, I will be blessed with, my safety and security at any moment, my health or length of days. Though God knows our end He does not force His way on us. The best promise concerning those many details I would suggest is in the psalm that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4). That is, you are free to choose your own ways, make your own decisions (as long as they are not sinful) and God is in the business of blessing.
Today we hear of God’s blessing when the mother of our Lord visited her relative Elizabeth. Upon hearing Mary’s voice, the baby in her womb who is John the Baptist leaped and jumped for joy. “Blessed,” said Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth was blessed. Yet unborn John was blessed. Mary was blessed and “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
The only detail Mary may have known is the promise of Isaiah that the Messiah would be born of someone like her, a virgin. They couldn’t have known what awaited them, however; their relocation to the city of David, Bethlehem, much less the visit of the Magi from the east a few years later or their terror-filled flight in fear to Egypt to name a few. Faith delights in the Lord who created it and believes in the fulfillment of His promises; His salvation, healing, blessing and peace even in the face of the unplanned twists and turns and detours of our days. God is in the business of blessing. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11).
We are ready to celebrate Christmas when we see God’s plan working according to His word and promises. And we are ready to celebrate Christmas when we know that by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God our Savior, all our days are in God’s hands; God who is in the business of blessing for His people.