The 3rd Sunday in Advent December 11, 2022
66, 85, 647, 103
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Audio of the sermon is available at: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Merciful God, please grant to Your people pardon and peace, that we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve You without fear; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.
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. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (ESV)
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the promised Son of David and Son of God, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Did you read the newspaper before you came to church today? Or more likely these days, scroll through the headlines on your phone? Maybe you watched a bit of local news on the TV before you headed out the door, or heard it on the radio as you were driving. Bad news doesn’t stop for Christmas, does it?
In many ways we live in unsettling times. It can be scary. We read the news and are told of drive-by shootings, school shootings, chaos in our government, job layoffs, inflation. We turn on the TV to hear there are more war casualties in the Ukraine, protesters dead in Iran, people defending the murder of the unborn. And, all the while, perhaps most distressing of all, the nuclear family continues to disintegrate before our very eyes. If it’s not a hurricane being reported on, it’s a deadly tornado, or a raging forest fire. We live in a country that can no longer legitimately call itself a Christian nation. The church itself is becoming less and less interested in preaching God’s Word, and more and more willing to compromise its ministry and message to suit the spirit of the times. Christian people are now content with a nominal faith, rather than standing out from the crowd as true light and salt. We shake our heads and wonder: What does the future hold for our nation? For our families?
Sometimes the world seems to be spinning out of control. So easily we can let the way the world is today get us down. It can fill us with worry and rob us of peace of mind.
Seven centuries before the birth of Christ, the believers of Micah’s day must have felt the same way. Micah was a prophet to the tiny nation of Judah in times that were very unsettling. For example, in a war with her neighbors to the north Judah had suffered 120,000 casualties, with another 200,000 of her people taken captive. Later the great superpower, Assyria, wiped out Israel and was now threatening to destroy Judah as well. Economically it was a time of greed, where the wealthy victimized the poor. Spiritually and morally, things were in a steep downward spiral. Families were falling apart. Religion had become a mere formality. Idol worship was commonplace. It was a time of bad news and more bad news, where God’s faithful people struggled to find peace of mind in a world in utter turmoil.
As a pop song from the 60’s says, “the beat goes on.” The news never really seems to change. Since Adam’s Fall it’s the same sad story repeated generation after generation. Change the names and places, however the headlines report pretty much the same depressing news.
But God’s answer to our fears about our world and our place in the world, doesn’t change either.
When we get depressed about the current state of affairs, the LORD would say to us: “;Go now even unto Bethlehem! For there you will find the peace for a world in turmoil!”; That’s what He told Prophet Micah and God’s believers of long ago. That’s what He continues to tell His people today.
Oh, yes, I’m sure, back in Micah’s time, many laughed that peace for a world in chaos could be found in tiny Bethlehem. It would be like telling someone today, don’t try to find peace in the United Nations building of New York City, rather, go to Ypsilanti, Michigan or some other little town. Bethlehem wasn’t even counted among the top 100 cities of Judah. It was, in fact, the least among all the cities. Nevertheless, Bethlehem was where God would set in motion His peace plan for a fallen world.
In fact, the everlasting God, whose goings forth are from of old, would Himself come to little Bethlehem. A woman, a virgin, would go into labor and give birth. God would be born a human baby. His name would be Jesus. He would live in this world turned upside down by sin. He would travel its lonely roads, its crowded streets, and grimy back alleys. He would feel its heartaches, cry its tears. He would make up for its wickedness by living a flawless life in obedience to His own laws. Finally, He would die for all, for their sins. He would offer Himself as a substitute for all. His majesty and greatness would spread to the ends of the earth. He Himself would be Peace! Peace for a world in turmoil.
No. The peace of Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would not, at first, put an end to the bad news on the front pages of the newspaper. That will come later, when He returns a second time. As long as the earth remains, there will be wars and rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes, poverty, injustice, false prophets, and much, much, trouble. Yet in the midst of all this disturbing news, perfect peace is here, right now, for all who go to Bethlehem with penitent and trusting hearts, for all who hold with arms of faith the baby found lying in a manger.
Robert Fulghum, author of the bestseller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” tells this story of his eight-year-old daughter: One morning she handed him a mystery bag for him to take to work with him that day. He asked what was in it? “Just some stuff,” she said. At lunch time he opened it up. The contents consisted of two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and thirteen pennies. Later, as he was cleaning off his desk before going home, he smiled at the contents, but then wiped them into the waste basket. After all, there wasn’t anything in the bag that really interested or pertained to him. At home that night, his daughter said she hoped he enjoyed playing with the things in the bag, but that she now wanted her treasures back. Those things were very important to her, she explained—the stuff she cared about the most.
My friends, let’s be sure we don’t make the same mistake with the wealth of spiritual treasures God gives to us this Christmas season. Once again, we listen to the same Christmas accounts, we look at this wonderful thing which has come to pass. What will you see? Will you treasure what you see as the little girl treasured the contents of her bag, or will you casually listen, but not really regard the message to be all that significant, or all that pertinent to your life in today’s world? Will you smile at the Christmas Eve children with their happy faces, but then let the good news of Bethlehem slip from your mind as you prepare to face another year with all its new challenges and troubles? God forbid!
In fact, let us go even unto Bethlehem right now. Close your eyes. Go ahead and close them for a moment. Forget about what you read in the news or hear on the radio or see on the TV. Imagine yourself there in Bethlehem, on that night of nights, that silent night, that holy night. In yonder manger bed see two little eyes peering up at young Mary. Those are God’s eyes, come to seek and to save that which was lost, to search for you and find you, the sinner, so that you could be His very own. In your mind hear the soft coos and gentle sounds coming out of that little mouth. A mouth come to speak words of truth and life to a world of lies and death. Picture His little hands stirring under His swaddling clothes, hands that one day will be stretched out and nailed to a cross, hands that one day will hold out to you the invitation to come and take the heavenly inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Yes, forget the news for a while. Leave the TV off and close out the app on your phone. Instead, hear the news from Micah’s little Bethlehem. What does it day to you now? What will it say to you on Christmas Day? What does it say to you every day of your life? It says that nothing in this world can take away from you God’s love and forgiveness. No threat of war or terrorism can rob you, His child, of Jesus’ victory over the grave. No economic downturn or cost of living increase can deprive you of the treasure of everlasting life. No amount of social unrest can undo your Mighty Shepherd’s loving control over every aspect of your life. Relax. It’s going to be okay. It really is. Real peace, God’s peace—is this: Jesus, has come to this tumultuous world. Bad news may not stop for Christmas, but it’s worrisome effects CANNOT and WILL NOT enter into the heart which has come to Bethlehem and found the One Who is Peace!
At Bethlehem, in David’s town,
As Micah did of old make known;
’Tis Jesus Christ, your Lord and King,
Who doth to all salvation bring.
What harm can sin and death then do?
The true God now abides with you.
Let hell and Satan rage and chafe,
Christ is your Brother— ye are safe.
Ye shall and must at last prevail;
God’s own ye are, ye cannot fail.
To God forever sing your praise
With joy and patience all your days. Amen!
(The Lutheran Hymnal 103:2,4,6)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.