December 23, 2018*
Fourth Sunday of Advent
By Pastor John Partridge
Micah 5:2-5a Luke 1:39-45 Hebrews 10:5-10
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love. But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light. Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.
But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus. And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C. And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
5 And he will be our peace.
Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David. But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times. He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.
And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God. He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people. And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years. Peace.
“And he will be our peace.”
Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king. Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.
But so, what?
Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?
And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews. Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.
8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers. Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God. It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts. Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience. The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.
So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived. The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings.
The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…
…of costly love.
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