The prophesy we read today is a very well known reading for the time of Advent, apart from the first verse, which is usually left out. We did read it today though, because to my mind it puts the next couple of verses into perspective.
"But you O Bethlehem Ephrathah" is a text that over the centuries has been thought to apply to the birth of Jesus. A vision of the future, imparted centuries beforehand to the prophet Micah.
However, prophets were not into the soothsaying business. The bible in fact does not like soothsayers, because it is thought that the future is Gods and that it only leads to trouble if humans start meddling with it, or want to know more than by their nature is given them to know or foresee.
So no, Micah was not predicting the future, and no, when the prophesy was written down their was no clear idea that a very important child in the history of God and his people would be born in Bethlehem. And yet .. I dare to say the text does apply to Jesus. But in another way.
Let us look at it a little bit more closely:
As with the other prophets weve read from this advent, Micah and his people were not in a very comfortable position at the time of writing
They were walled in from all sides. They were in fact quite desperate, and it looked like there was no way out. They were besieged and the King was treated with contempt by their enemies.
It is in that situation that Micah comes with his vision. It is an encouraging one, a vision that looks beyond the present difficulties towards something else, trusting the Lord to save and make new beginnings. His inspiration coming from the days of old, from a history where before new beginnings were possible from a small start. A shepherd boy called David who was anointed king while another king by the name of Saul had lost track of the ways of the Lord. A shepherd boy that was born and raised in Bethlehem, an insignificant little town somewhere in country Judea. To become the most important King Israel had ever had.
It has happened before says Micah: In a situation that looked desperate the Lord changed things for the better. But the beginnings of that very important change were small and insignificant at first. A shepherd boy, from a humble town. Nothing special, and yet
It will happen again says Micah, that I trust. Because that is the way God works: when things get desperate he comes to save, and most often he will start with something seemingly unpretentious, humble and insignificant.
She who is now in labor will bring forth.
Pregnancy, labor is a difficult process that takes time and involves birth pangs and pain. And once it has happened, after a long time of waiting, when finally the baby is born, it all still can seem very insignificant, and is vulnerable too. A newborn baby is full of potential, of possibilities, but needs care, needs to be watched and carefully nurtured. And patience for the potential to develop, the possibilities to take shape.
It is not easy Micah says, it is not something that will suddenly happen, a big change from one minute to the next. Change, Gods coming to save is a long drawn-out process, it is like a birth. And even when we start to see the first signs of it, it will still take a lot of time and effort to get it going, to let it mature into something that is meaningful.
But it will happen. And when it happens we will be provided with a leader that is like a shepherd that tends his flock, an shepherd that looks after his sheep, with the strength and the majesty of the Lord God himself. Showing in his care and love for the people the love and care of God himself.
And then they will live secure and there shall be peace.
Its a dream Micah is dreaming. But a dream he trusts will come true at some point. A dream that is born from a deep security and peace within. Security and peace that comes from a firm belief in the faithfulness of God, and in his desire to save.
"He shall be great to the ends of the earth and he shall be the one of peace."
Centuries later people recognised Jesus in the prophesies of Micah and others. Prophesies about somebody in whom Gods love and mercy and commitment to people would show. Somebody like Jesus.
So yes, in a way these prophesies were about Jesus. About God coming and making a new beginning. About Gods strength and majesty coming to birth in this world, insignificant perhaps at first, but developing into something strong and majestic, giving shape to Gods faithfulness and love for his people.
But there is more. Not only did Micah dream about somebody like David, somebody like Jesus coming. He dreamed about God not leaving his people walled in at any time, always trying to clear the way for new beginnings, small and insignificant to start with perhaps, but ready to grow to something strong and majestic that would bring peace and security. Hes done it before says Micah, and although it may not look like it right now, He will do it again.
And God did. We know that some centuries later a baby was born that made all the difference to a world lost in darkness and sin. A baby in which God himself came near and showed that his strength and majesty were stronger even than death.
When we look at the walls that surround us, be it the walls of a world full of violence, hunger, injustice and fear, or the walls of personal grief and difficulty it is good to listen to Micah sharing his faith in God making a new beginning. A new beginning that may take time to take shape, a new beginning that may take a lot of effort to actually be born into the world, a new beginning that may look insignificant at first. A beginning of a peace beyond understanding, in our hearts and in the world at large. Of security that will not be disrupted by bombs, by gunshots, by natural disasters, by sickness and death.
Let us this Christmas try to see where in our lives, in our world there are signs of this impending birth, signs of a vulnerable beginnings, indications of a God with the strong arms of the shepherd gathering his sheep. Let us look where true peace is born and true security and help nurture it. Because we know that God comes as a baby. Asking for care, for love, for nurture, from us, wherever we can, to allow new beginnings, to allow the vision to take shape and change our world to a place of peace and security for all.