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MICAH 5:1-5a; 4:3-4
This Advent season, to help us prepare for the coming of the Christ child, we have been using the theme, CREATING PEACE, and preaching on Old Testament prophecies. Usually, the great passages of Isaiah are read during Advent, but the lectionary for this Advent uses passages from lesser known prophets. We have heard from Jeremiah, Malachi, Zephaniah, and today, Micah. Personally I have found these prophets to be stimulating and exciting. I have marveled at their insights and relevancy for our situation today. I hope you are finding your Advent preparation enriching and expanding through the sermons and study of these prophets.
Today we look at another prophet who was truly inspired by God, and whose visions, especially of peace, are yet inspiring and challenging us. The prophet Micah must have been 500 years old, because the prophecies recorded in Micah cover a period of about 500 years, from 714 B.C. to 200 B. C. What happened with these older documents is that they were living books. As the writings of the original prophet were circulated, new prophecies from prophets of later centuries were added to the original. But the name of the first prophet was retained. By adding current prophecies to the older document and retaining the name, they were honoring the original prophet.
The original Micah prophesied between the years 714 B. C. and 686. He lived in Judah. The northern kingdom had already fallen to Assyria, and the southern kingdom, Judah, was a small buffer nation between powerful Egypt and Assyria. Judah was enjoying economic prosperity when Micah came on the scene, prosperity for a few. Wealth and power were in the hands of a few, and social injustice was rampant. Micah was a rural prophet, a farm boy, who preached on behalf of the poor farmers who were suffering at the hands of powerful landlords. 2:1-2,
Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds...They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and theirinheritance.
Besides exploitation and oppression, morals were low. Government officials were dishonest. The nation had lost its moral integrity. Micah's task, Micah's call from the Lord, was to strengthen the moral fiber of his people as their only sure defense from the powerful enemies of Egypt and Assyria.
Micah is a sign of hope for all who preach and work for justice, because his prophecies were actually heeded, and results were seen. Jeremiah credits Micah with having brought about a major repentance which spared Jerusalem in 701 B. C., when an attack by the Assyrians failed to conquer Jerusalem. King Hezekiah, who was a good, conscientious king, made some needed reforms.
Micah is especially revered for three passages, two of which were read this morning. These prophecies of Micah have become cherished expressions of hope for Christians. The first is Micah's timeless vision of peace, 4:4 He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
By whom shall this peace come? Who will create such peace upon the face of the earth? By the end of the Old Testament, the hope of the Jews was centered in one person whom they called the Messiah, which in Greek is translated Christ. Micah prophesied, 5:2, 5
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.
...and he shall be the one of peace.
With one voice, Christians name Jesus the one who was born in Bethlehem. With one voice, Christians proclaim that Jesus is the "one of peace" of whom Micah prophesied, Jesus is the one who shall create peace, who shall teach us how to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, turn missiles and munitions into food and housing, turn nuclear technology into new ways to improve schools and provide socially beneficial jobs.
In the third great passage of Micah, Micah tells us our part in creating peace and building a world of justice and opportunity for everyone. Micah opposed the sacrificial system, as did most of the great prophets. Micah was more interested in ethical living than killing animals or humans. Has any poet or preacher improved on 6:6-8?
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
It was Christmas Eve in the winter of 1914, on a cold, damp battlefield in France. The Great War, as it was called then and now known as World War I, was only a few months old. The British and Germans were deadlocked in a grisly new pattern of trench warfare. Both sides had shoveled miles-long ditches in the rocky French farmland, ditches from which men blasted at one another with machine guns and mortars.
In these muddy, rat-infested trenches, British soldiers opened soggy Christmas greetings from their King while a few hundred yards away German troops read a Christmas message from the Kaiser.
Between the rows of trenches lay a barren no-man's-land, a zone of craters and shattered trees where anything that moved was instantly fired at. So narrow was this strip that whenever there was a lull in the roar of the guns, each side could hear the clink of cooking gear from the other.
Late on Christmas Eve, with the sleet tapering off and the temperature dropping, a British soldier on guard heard a different sound drifting across no-man's-land. In the German trenches a man was singing, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht..." The British sentry, recognizing the tune, began to hum along. Then, louder, he chimed in with the English words, singing an odd duet with his enemy beyond the barbed wire, "Silent Night, Holy Night."
A second British soldier crawled to the sentry station and joined in. Little by little others on both sides picked up the song, lending their rough voices across the shell pocked landscape. The Germans broke out with a second carol, "O Tannenbaum," and the British replied with "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen." On and on the singing went.
A British soldier with binoculars reported that the Germans had hoisted a ragged evergreen with lighted candles in the branches to the top of the sandbag barrier. As dawn of Christmas day broke, signs appeared on both sides, in two languages: MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Pulled by a force stronger than fear, one by one the soldiers started laying down their guns, creeping beneath barbed wire and around mortar holes into no-man's-land. At first it was just a few men, then more and more, until scores of British and German troops met together in the first light of Christmas Day. They brought out photographs of families, exchanged gifts of candy and personal items. Someone produced a soccer ball and the men played on a few yards of crater free ground.
By mid morning Christmas Day, horrified officers had summoned their men back to the trenches. Within hours an order was issued forbidding such contact, and firing recommenced. The war, as history tragically records, destroyed almost that entire generation of young men on both sides. For a few hours, however, the power of the Christ child had prevailed. There was an incredible memory in the minds of those who lived to recall that first Christmas at the front, the memory of a few hours when their master had been neither King nor Kaiser, but the Prince of Peace.
The power of the Christ child can create peace. As the world continues to change rapidly this Christmas season, we pray the new Commonwealth of the former Soviet Union will turn from atheism to the Prince of Peace. We pray the newly formed governments throughout eastern Europe will create peace. We pray the talks between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East will continue and result in creating peace. And, we pray that you may experience the power of the Christ to create peace in your family, in your home, in your heart.
How do we receive and implement the peace that turns swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, and no-man's-lands into soccer games and carol sings? How? Micah told us: By doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris