Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Advent (December 23, 2018)

MICAH 5:2-5a


In the name + of Jesus.

     In what is perhaps the most sordid event of Israel's history, the tribe of Benjamin was practically wiped out.  You can read about it in the final chapters of Judges.  It was due to an incident in one city which rivaled the immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah.  When all the Israelites were called out to purge the evil from Israel, the people of Benjamin stood in solidarity with their immoral kinsman.  The other eleven tribes of Israel were bent more on a spirit of vengeance than anything.  They sought to wipe out not only the wicked city, but the entire tribe of Benjamin.  The result is that a tribe which had numbered 45,600 battle-ready men was reduced to a sum total of 600 men.  All others—the soldiers, the elderly, the women and children—were slaughtered by their fellow Israelites.  The Israelites managed to find wives for the surviving Benjamites, but the tribe of Benjamin was reduced to almost nothing.
     It was from that little, insignificant tribe that the Lord called the first king of Israel.  Things did not work out well with King Saul, however, who proved himself disobedient to God's word.  Therefore, the Lord sought another king, and once again, he looked for someone insignificant.  The Lord sent Samuel to Bethlehem.  It does not appear that Jesse had the prestige of being an elder even in the tiny town of Bethlehem, but it was from this family that the Lord's anointed would come.  And when Jesse's sons were presented to Samuel, the Lord chose the runt of the litter—a shepherd named David. 
     This pattern continued even when it came to bringing a Savior into the world.  Through the prophet Micah, the Lord had promised: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)  
     In the list of the cities of Judah, Bethlehem did not even make the cut.  It was too small to be listed.  Nevertheless, the Lord had big plans for this little town.  The eternal one would enter our time in Bethlehem.  Though he would come about seven centuries after Micah foretold him, he existed long before Micah was even around.  That is because he is eternally begotten of the Father.  Now, in eternity, there is no clock or calendar.  There is no “When.”  Therefore, when we speak of the Son being eternally begotten of the Father, our focus is on “What,” not “When.”  It is the relationship that we focus on.  He is God the Son, of one being with the Father—God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God.  This is the one, the eternal one, who enters our time.
     So, what would move the eternal God to limit himself to our time?  What would move the Creator of heaven and earth to limit himself to being a creature in his own creation, subjecting himself to the laws of gravity, to pangs of hunger, to callouses, pain, and exhaustion?  And more than that, what would compel the God who is worthy of praise and honor to submit himself to the scorn, slander, and false accusations of sinful men?  What would compel the immortal God to allow himself to suffer and die?  The innocent one to endure a wretched, cursed death?  For, surely something must compel him if he is going to subject himself willingly to a station that is far beneath his very nature!  And, yes, something does compel him—your salvation.  This is what causes the eternal one to enter our time.
     The eternal one enters our time because our time is so limited.  We do not get to dwell long on the earth because our sin produces death in us.  It is not only that we are headed to the grave, it is also the spiritually dead condition that we entered this world in.  This is the condition which robs us of any peace between us and God.
     Adam and Eve were warned by God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)  Obviously, Adam and Eve did not keel over dead as soon as they ate from the forbidden tree.  In fact, Adam lived to an astounding age of 930 years old.  But the moment they ate the forbidden fruit, they died spiritually.  The evidence is that they covered their nakedness with fig leaves, fled from God when they heard him, and blamed others for their sins.  The peace between God and man had been severed—not because God had changed, but because man was covered in guilt, shame, and fear.
     To this day, peace eludes us as we consider our standing before God.  The devil reminds us of our sins.  Our consciences concurs: We are guilty.  We can lie to ourselves about it.  But when you are in a hospital bed or have to face your impending death, peace is shattered by the reality of your sin.  Even devout Christians are overwhelmed with fear and doubt at these moments.  Like Adam and Eve, we want to cover up our shame with excuses or the appearance that we are better than we are.  Like Adam and Eve, we blame our guilt on others, even on God.  We claim his Commandments are too harsh or too outdated.  We reject God's word so that we can adopt worldly behavior, thinking that we avoid guilt by welcoming different standards.  Like Adam and Eve, we still hide from God, as if that also hides our shame and guilt.
     But the eternal one entered our time so that we do not have to spend eternity cut off from our Lord, or even to fear him.  The eternal one entered our time to win for us peace in our time and a blessed eternity.  Micah foretold that he would do just that.  “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.  And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:4-5a)  
     The eternal one entered our time to secure your peace with God.  He is the good and faithful shepherd who comes to tend to your needs.  He takes his stand between you and the devil.  The devil wants to torment you over your sins.  He wants the guilt to stick to you so that you will quit on God's promises, despair of comfort and hope, and be destined for hell.  He does not lie about the sins you have committed.  Those are true.  His lie is that those sins and their guilt still stick to you.  But Jesus Christ takes his stand between you and the devil.  He takes the blows the devil would inflict upon you.  Jesus has taken all your sin and guilt into himself.  He has borne the punishment for you.  The eternal one entered our time so that the devil would forever lose his claim on you.  You are forever free from his grasp because you are forgiven of all sin.
     The eternal one entered our time to grant you a blessed eternity.  Jesus has taken his stand between you and death.  He has taken the blows of death for you.  The eternal one entered our time to give his life for all sinners of all time.  The everlasting one died for you.  He went into death in order to conquer it.  And now that you are his, you are also going to be delivered from the grave so that you will live forever with him.
     The eternal one has entered our time to be your peace.  Peace is not found in excuses, or in blaming others, or in rejecting the Commandments.  Jesus is your peace.  Thanks to Jesus, you no longer need to fear the Lord.  His favor rests upon you.  He has taken pains to save you from sin, death, and the devil.  You do not need to flee from him.  Rather, you and I flee to him because he is our Savior.  He continually speaks to us with words of peace, encouragement, and comfort. 
     Bethlehem may have been insignificant among the cities of Judah, but is forever known by us as the place where God chose to enter our world.  If the world thinks you are insignificant, don't fret; the Lord knows you.  From eternity, the Lord chose you for eternity.  Then, the eternal one entered our time in order to save you.  And in our time, this very day, he comes to you in word and sacrament to strengthen and keep you in the true faith until he brings you into eternity.  You are not insignificant to him.  He came to save you so that you would be his.  His peace is yours now.  And you are his forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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