Waimea United Church of Christ

 

Micah 5:2-5a                    “Feed Flock in Strength”

 

            At Christmas we like to sing Christmas carols. I wanted to share with you that this part of the scripture in Micah sings really well. You can see in your bibles that the text is set in verse as if it were a poem. Indeed it is poetry or even musical in the original Hebrew. We might actually be looking at the first Christmas Carol in a way! It just was written six centuries before the actual birth of Jesus!

            The first part of this ancient carol is like “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” However we see that a second name is given for Bethlehem, too. That name is “Ephratha.” I know that this sounds like one of those new drugs they sell on television for the treatment of moderate to severe psoriatic arthritis. I have often wondered if drug companies go through the Old Testament looking for names for their drugs. They just tweak them a little bit.

            To be sure this was to distinguish this Bethlehem from other towns with the same name. Bethlehem just means the “house of bread.” There were three known Bethlehems in that time. What does that remind you of? It is just like the town of Waimea—which just means “red water.” So, I still get calls from people on the Big Island and Oahu wanting to know how to drive to our church. I just tell them to get in the canoe and come on over!

            So, Jesus was not born in one of those other Bethlehems; he was born in the Bethlehem close to Jerusalem that belonged to the clan of Ephratha. When we lived in Washington State, we resided in Grant County. The county seat was in the town of Ephrata—which was just the old German way of saying “Ephratha.” So, when I had to go do my jury duty there, I literally drove to the town of Bethlehem.

            Just like Ephrata in Washington State, that was truly just a main road and little else, Bethlehem was (as the bible says) a “lesser” place. The Messiah, Son of God, was not going to be born in Jerusalem—the big capital of the nation. God chose for Christ to have a humble birth. And, again, this was centuries before his actual birth! This is already God’s plan for redemption. Our Lord was born in humility.

 

            The second part of verse two is such an amazing prophecy. Yet, we might miss this as some translations are a little bit shaky about one particular Hebrew word that appears here. So, our pew bibles say, “One from me, whose origin is of old, from ancient days.” Instead the KJV says “from everlasting.” The Hebrew  word here is “olam” which literally means eternity or the “eternity of eternities.”

            In this we see that the one who is stemming out of Bethlehem is to be three things: 1. from God, 2. a king, and 3. eternal. Who is that eternal king from God? This is not a regular ruler in any sense. This is Jesus. 

            One last thing to note about this phrase in the Hebrew is that to this day when Jewish people pray a kiddush, a blessing, they start by saying “Baruch ata Adonai, ha malech ha olam. . .” “Blessed art thou, Lord, King of the Universe.” This is traditionally another way to address God, Himself. This is to say that Jesus IS God!  Jesus is the King of the Universe—and this according to Micah, the prophet. 

 

             This prophecy is foretelling the very miracle of God coming down to earth to redeem God’s people once again. The next verse confirms for us the reason for God’s coming down. In verse three we see that “He” (which in proper versions of the Bible is capitalized to show that the reference is to the Lord) has withheld or “given up” humanity until that time when Jesus comes into the picture. That is referenced with the holy birth. Yes, humankind was lost until that time of Jesus birth.

            The second half of the verse tells us that although we were lost, we shall return to be God’s people once again. Whenever you see the word “return” in the Old Testament you should know that the word “Shuv” in Hebrew is being used and that it is the same word that is translated as “repentance” in English. At the time of Christ’s birth, the world is called to repentance.

            I think most of the time when we talk about “repentance,” we do not relate it back to the birth of Jesus. No, we think of Lent, the time before Easter when we fast, as the time when we repent. Yet, here Micah is very clear in pointing out that Christmas is the time when we should repent, that is turn back to Jesus.

            What Micah is saying most clearly is the brethren return back to God, they are not going back to Jerusalem. They are going back to this humble place of the birth of Jesus. Repentance, turning back to God, is about humbling ourselves before God.

            The shepherds and wise men, not to mention the angels of heaven, come to a place of utter humility. That is how we repent and turn back to Jesus at Christmas.

 

            In verse four, as we continue, we should note that it begins with the word “Amen.” “And “he shall stand” is the word “amen” in Hebrew. Whenever we end our prayers with the word amen, we are literally saying “and so let it stand.” Amen? Amen!

            This part begins with a loud amen that something truly great is coming. We are being fed the “strength of the Lord.” The Bible says here “in the strength of the Lord”; however, the way I read this is that we are seated while the power and glory of God is surrounding us, and in that moment we are being fed. Again this reminds me of the birth of Jesus as the heavens open up with the bright star over Bethlehem and the heavenly hosts singing glory to God in the highest.

            We are being fed all of the glory and wonder of being in the presence of the Lord. That is what we are taking into us. Again, I am sorry to say that we have a rather poor translation, but I understand why. You see, the word “to feed” here in the Hebrew is actually the word “to be filled with pomp.” You know, like “pomp and circumstance.” If you are not used to using the word “pomp” in normal English, then perhaps the synonym “splendor” will make more sense.

            At the birth of the Lord, we are standing (amen-ing) in the “splendor” of God. We are surrounded by the splendor of God’s presence, and we are simply stating over and over again “amen, amen, amen.”

            At this time of year so many of us complain that we are putting on the pounds. Everywhere we go we see food, delicious candies and cookies, being set out for us to partake. This Christmas I want you to be “fed” the splendor of God and thereby put on some spiritual weight. Get plump on the pomp of Christmas!

            Now, I want you to look at something in your bibles that you might have never noticed before. In verse four, you will see that the word “LORD” is all in capital letters. Do you see that? Why do you think that is?

            When Moses went up the mountain to see God in the burning bush, he asked by what name he might call God. Look at Exodus 3:14. Moses asks and God replies (all in caps again, “I AM THAT I AM.” This sentence is made up of just four Hebrew letters: “yod, het, waw, het.” If we were to pronounce this it would be “Yahweh.” Most assuredly, however, we are not supposed to pronounce the name of God. So, the ancient Hebrew people decided to replace the four-letter name with the word “adonai” which means “my LORD.”

            These four letters for what God speaks to Moses on the mountain is not just “I am that I am.” They can also mean “I will be that I be.” It could also be “I am that I cause to be.” Because the vowels were always missing because no one is supposed to say the name of God, we cannot be sure really one hundred percent how to translate these four letters for the name of God.

            Yet, in the last line of our scripture we see the words “And He shall be.” This is in fact the name of God being said in Hebrew. Finally the world hears the name of God being spoken!  Christmas is the time when the world hears the name of God again. His name is Jesus. We could not hear it before, but now we can.

           

            Then we continue with this last line to hear that God, Jesus, is to be the “one of peace.” Does that sound a little strange to you? Why is there the word “one” there? It is in fact in the Hebrew that way. It is almost as if we can simply stop the sentence there. God will be ONE God.

            This echoes the Great Commandment of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE!” And, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Wow, another reference to the strength that comes from God to us!

           

            And lastly we see the word “Peace.” Jesus is the one God of peace. This hearkens back to Isaiah 9:6, “For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us. . . .Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This word of course we all know is “shalom” in Hebrew. It is the idea of an active and present peace.

            What a wonderful prophecy for Christmas that we should finally have peace. So, stop thinking about all the troubles of this world right now. Jesus brings peace into our hearts. That is what the last advent candle stands for. With the light of Christ comes our true peace down from heaven.

 

Amen.