But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
ֵצֵ֔א לִֽהְיֹ֥ות מֹושֵׁ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
yese liyowt mowosel be’Yisrael
From you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.
Ancient words of ancient dreams.
When Micah preached seven centuries before Christ, he was mostly concerned with local problems: the suffering of the poor, the corruption of the kingdom, and the fall of Israel. The first half of his teachings are all accusation, woe, and destruction. Yet, halfway through the book bearing his name, he turns and speaks of hope and redemption – how Jerusalem will rise again, how the descendants of Jacob will have a new Exodus from slavery, and how a new king will rise to rule and protect. He says it will all start from the small town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. But he also says it will begin in pain and agony, chaos and confusion.
Micah, quite frankly, had trouble seeing the forest for the trees – and how easy it is to be blinded by the tyranny of the immediate and miss the wider significance. His prophesy and preaching was all about how Israel would rise again, but he didn’t understand that the One who would come forth to rule, would rule far more than the ancient kingdoms. God would not come to rectify local politics. He would come to change the world.
The King that Micah prophesied did not come in thunder and righteous fire, but from the pain and agony of childbirth, carried out in the chaos of a crowded town during a census. He did not rise up and expel invaders, but He would overturn the tables in the temple – and, in doing so, overturn centuries of tradition. His origin may have been from the most ancient of days (“In the beginning was the Word…” [John 1:1]) but His impact would be for centuries to come. The flock he fed grew not to rebuild Jerusalem, but to become one of the most powerful forces in human history.
How easy it is to be mired in tradition when the new life that awaits us is so difficult to imagine. Even Matthew, when he quoted Micah in his gospel, probably lingered on the soft consonants and poetic cadences of this prophesy in Hebrew, and probably nurtured those promises of a Jerusalem ascendant. So is it also easy for us to be mired in our personal and local problems and miss that there is a greater vision that God holds for us. We are like students fretting tomorrow’s classwork but missing the vision of college and the life beyond it that awaits us – like the patient dreading the surgery but missing the cure.
That is why, even as we heed God’s call to be shepherds to His world, we must remember that this world is such a small part of what God has in store for all of us – and how amazing it is that a God who can set an entire universe to order, can still find the language that speaks to each of us personally.
“Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (English: “Savior of the Nations, Come”) is a Lutheran chorale of 1524 with words written by Martin Luther. The chorale was used as the prominent hymn for the first Sunday of Advent for centuries. The tune – simple and beguiling – fits perfectly with this season of preparation for the great Feast of the Nativity. At the late service, on Sunday, a quartet of voices will sing each of the four verses with organ pieces (called Chorale Preludes) inserted between each. The remaining verses are included below.
From God’s heart the Savior speeds;
back to God his pathway leads;
out to vanquish death’s command,
back to reign at God’s right hand.
Now your manger, shining bright,
hallows night with newborn light.
Night cannot this light subdue;
let our faith shine ever new.
Praise we sing to Christ the Lord,
virgin’s son, incarnate Word!
To the holy Trinity
praise we sing eternally.
This week’s recording is of this tune played on the Westminster Organ. Verse 1 is just the melody and showcases the foundation stops in the positiv division. Verse 2 is performed on the Oboe. Verse 3 is a choral prelude by German Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude. Verse 4 returns to only the melody and features our “chiffy” flute: the small percussive sound at the beginning of each note is a “chiff,” and is cause by the sudden rush of air into the pipe.
First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Hope
Advent is a time of preparation. We spend a lot of time getting ready for Christmas during Advent—buying presents, making food, sending cards. It can be exhausting! For families, it can be a time of stress and over-stimulation and we tend to forget about finding comfort and peace in God’s words to us. This week, think about how God brings “comfort” to you. When we find God’s comfort, we are able to “hope— where do you feel hopeful? At dinner this week, or before bedtime, tell a story about a time you were comforted.
Dear Lord, help us to remember your comfort and hope. Help us to bring comfort and hope to others. Amen.
Though Christmas is still weeks away, we have been bombarded for months by Christmas commercials, all telling us what we can or should buy to make someone’s Christmas bright. As a community of Christian faith, we join in that desire to bring joy to others, though we attribute the light we share to a different source. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said (John 8:12). Jesus also said, “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). In that spirit, Westminster celebrates its annual Alternative Giving Bazaar (AGB), a festival of giving that provides an opportunity to honor friends and family with gifts in their names to nearly twenty organizations supported by our Local, National and International Mission Committees.
One purchase gives rise to two gifts:
- to the people whom these donations will serve, and
- to members of your family, friends, co-workers or neighbors whom you enable to be a part of this expression of love and care.
The Alternative Giving Bazaar is also a great introduction to the mission ministries of our church. This year, the Alternative Giving Bazaar will be held on December 2 and 9, after the 11:00 a.m. service in Fellowship Hall. As part of your Advent devotion, make a point of visiting one of the tables and making a connection with the mission representative. We will also have children’s activities to help our young ones engage the bazaar. If you cannot attend, go to the church web site to read the AGB catalog and prayerfully consider finding ways to support one of the featured groups with time, talent or treasure. Doing so will indeed infuse a measure of Christ’s light into the darkness of this world.