Monday, December 18, 2006

Preaching the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Micah 5:2-5a (post 1)

The appointed reading for this coming Sunday, Advent 4, Year C, is Micah 5:2-5a. I cannot think of a biblical text more appropriate for Christmas Eve, which is exactly what this Sunday is. In the woodcut on Micah below, you can see the Bethlehem scene in the upper right quadrant. Please, please consider a sermon / homily on this text of Micah.

Let us begin some work at exposition! Micah of Moresheth, for whom the book of Micah is named, prophesied in the Israelite southern kingdom of Judah in the eighth century b.c.e. While Hosea, his contemporary, denounced apostasy in worship, Micah decried the social injustices of his time—particularly those perpetrated against the countryside, that is, the rural parts of the land.
Micah traveled from his hometown of Moresheth in the country to Judah’s urban capital, Jerusalem, where he castigated the elites of the nation for abandoning and oppressing the Judean people of the land. His countryfolk, he protested, were experiencing Jerusalem’s policies of militarization and socioeconomic “progress” as nothing short of state-sanctioned cannibalism. He prophesied that God would not allow this tyranny to continue, but would surely punish Judah and set things right.
Micah’s book intersperses two types of messages. One presents firm words of judgment against society’s leaders, who use their position, power, and authority to perpetrate socioeconomic injustices with seeming impunity. This officially sanctioned injustice, Micah reveals, is creating a crisis of covenant and community in Judah. The other Mican message holds out hopes for a marvelous future of promise. The hopes will culminate in the birth at Bethlehem of an ideal messianic ruler.

Micah 5:2–4, which both the RCL and the Episcopal Church Lectionary appoint for Advent 4, Year C, speaks of a coming true judge who will arise out of Bethlehem and replace Judah’s failed leadership. He will be no ordinary king but a Messiah, “great to the ends of the earth” (5:4).

According to Matthew 2, Micah was the prophetic Scripture that ultimately guided the magi in their search for the Christ child. Jerusalem’s chief priests and scribes knew from Micah the proper location of the Messiah’s birth. Bethlehem, not the historic capital, Jerusalem, was where the wise men should be looking.
In coming posts, I would like to reflect with you on all the key ramifications of God's choice here in Micah of Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, for the Messiah's birthplace. For now, note that the Scriptures often picture the Messiah as a king of Jerusalem, a powerful royal figure, but Micah 5:2–4 cautions against misunderstanding such a portrait.
The true, future judge of Judah, Micah informs us, will be far from just another proud tyrant. Rather, he represents the antithesis of the ruling monarchs of Micah’s time. Rejecting the standard, worldly trappings of royalty, he will derive his authority from somewhere other than a hierarchically organized system of control and a militarized array of defense.
More soon. Stay tuned...


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