Christmas Eve – 2016 LSB #’s 331, 361, 376
Text – Micah 5:2
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.
THE KING’S ROYAL ROOTS: BACK TO THE FUTURE!
There’s something about going back to one’s roots that can re-establish a sense of identity. With the frantic nature of our lives, sometimes we lose our way. It can happen slowly & in tiny steps such that we don’t even notice it’s happening.
When getting lost in the woods, suddenly the realization can set in, “I don’t recognize where I am, or where I’m going.” What can we do? It may be possible to retrace our steps, get back to familiar landmarks, & find our way home.
People get lost in how they live also. We have plans, even strategies, for achieving them. We have values & priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do – & then life happens.
Sometimes we continue on the path, following our life’s map, as it were. Other times we get off track, because life happens & things rapidly pull us this way or that. One day we wake up & find ourselves far away from the course we had set.
So it should be no surprise that this can happen to our spiritual lives as well. We receive baptism into the death & resurrection of Jesus as infants, totally dependent upon God’s grace, His action in Christ, for us. Then we begin thinking God needs our help; we value our spiritual life based upon what we have done instead of on what God has done.
We reconfirm the vows taken at our baptism to remain faithful even unto death. Next comes high school, college, a career, or lack of a career, & then, well, life happens, time flies. We may find that we’ve wandered quite some distance from the Way that Jesus tells us He is, as in John 14:6, “I am the Way & the Truth & the Life.” This can happen to the entire Christian church. In fact, it did happen by the time of Luther. The Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths which then became the great themes of the Reformation: Grace alone! Faith alone! Scripture alone! Christ alone!
There are times we major in the minors. We emphasize truth & doctrine for its own sake & not for the mission of the church. Or we chase any which way to do mission but lose our theological mooring, the very things Jesus taught. At other times we focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be – & to be about – the mission of revealing God’s truth.
It can certainly happen to a congregation. Like the story of the rescue station that becomes a club for its members, a congregation can drift from its mission & central message, which is to be the body of Christ in this place for all the people around it. How do we as people, or as a congregation, make a course correction in our spiritual living?
We need a recalibration of the GPS in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God. This is what happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of this sermon text. As we have heard now week after week during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. They had drifted off the path or even run away from it.
The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real king, & not servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people of Israel & Judah had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than in serving God or their neighbor.
And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem & its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.” (Micah 3:12 ESV)
Yet, their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of
David. There was a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, of remembering where they came from, & getting back on course.
For the king, this meant remembering David & his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” back then. It was a small rural town. Jesse & his sons were shepherds, far from being the elite people of Wall Street or Washington DC.
Remember, Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, & they brought past him all the sons but David – he was the youngest & out in the fields watching the sheep. His father Jesse didn’t even consider him, yet lowly David was the chosen one.
Of course, when he became king, David himself quickly outgrew his humility. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. God would have to find those, having lost their way, & win them back – back to the beginning, back to Bethlehem, back to a new birth of a new king, a King of a completely different quality.
Dear friends in Christ, we began our advent journey toward understanding God’s king & His reign by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety & security.
We also noted that even the king of the nation of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted & intended it to be. And so would be born one to be ruler in Israel (notice, Micah doesn’t call him “king”). His origins & His coming forth were part of God’s everlasting plan to send a savior, who would work all things together for our good.
Jesus came to save the world, save the church, save you & me, from our irresistible tendency & temptation to get ourselves lost, to drift off course, to wander from God’s plan & then even to wonder if we are still God’s people. In the sermon text, on this Eve of Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we began this journey, but our roots – not where we live, or have lived, but where we were born; where we started out, where our family originates.
We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives let us consider where & when we were born into the family of God. For many, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font.
For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but still, in the waters of holy baptism, which is the same power of God unto salvation wherever & whenever it comes to call His people home.
And as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scene we find on cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God. And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God Himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem.
This time the Son of David got it right. No losing His way. No selfish self-interests. This Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve; to give His life as a ransom for all. Yet He was a king, a true & greater king than any ruler of Israel had been, & greater than any president of the greatest democracy on earth ever would be.
An angel choir announced His birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside that little town of Bethlehem. Jesus was God’s true king: David’s son but also David’s lord.
He would come to His capital city in royal procession & be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon Himself the sin & suffering of all, to bear our sin & be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for our sin & self-interest. This Jesus, who reconnected mankind with its heavenly Father, would rise from the dead & ascend to His heavenly throne. Already now, though behind the scenes, He lives & reigns to all eternity, for you & for your salvation. One day, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth there will be peace!
As our Advent season draws to a close, we draw nearer to the manger itself. Our preparation too, turns back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font & the baptismal waters where God begins His reign in the lives of His people – you & me included.
There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for all the days of our living. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under Him in His kingdom, to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence & blessedness! It is there that our heavenly Father established our identity.
It is there that He began to call us home, that we might never lose our way again. Oh, there will be plenty of lost times yet before Judgment Day, but the Almighty Creator is working even those together for good of those who love Him. Amen.
For Christ is born of Mary, &, gathered all above while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wandering love. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, & praises sing to God, the King! & peace to all the earth! O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin, & enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel. Amen. LSB 361:2, 4
Pastor Dean R. Poellet