"The One of Peace"             Micah 5: 2-5a                        December 20, 2009
 
One Christmas Eve, almost 15 years ago, Bethlehem was in an uproar. Tens of thousands of people had poured into the city from all over the West Bank, Israel and the world. Manger Square was ablaze with the tricolor flag of the Palestinian National Authority.
 
The walls were draped with huge Yasser Arafat banners. Armed Palestinian guards patrolled the parapets above the shoulder-to-shoulder jostling crowd.

Only the day before, Israel had formally turned over the city to the PNA as part of the peace process. Orthodox Jews had mounted a strenuous protest. Israeli soldiers met them outside of town to control the mob.
 
But Palestinians, many of them Christians, were rejoicing. Some estimate that Palestinian Christians account for almost 40% of the population in Bethlehem. Years ago it was closer to 60 to 80%. This Christmas Eve, they crammed into the ancient churches to worship.

At Redeemer Lutheran beneath its cone-shaped tower, the crowds came early. Candles were lit and people sat in expectant silence. Dignitaries were seated. The Lutheran Palestinian bishop from Jordan brought greetings. Suha Arafat, Yasser's wife, and her entourage arrived. Gifts were exchanged, and the service began in English, German and Arabic.

For Palestinians, it was a most poignant moment. For the first time in the city's history, it was a self-governing political entity. Gone were the Israelis, the Jordanians before them, the British, the Ottoman Turks and the Romans. Not since the birth of Jesus had this village been free.

All of this was on everyone's mind when the pastor's wife stood up to sing. She had obviously had no formal training in voice. The tone was mellow but wavering. The notes were hesitant, but the spirit firm. Tears coursed down the faces of all present who heard these words as though they had never heard them before:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
.
 
The hopes and fears -- of all the years!

Unfortunately, that night of peace did not last.
 
No, go back 2,000 years and imagine a young couple arriving in this sleepy village -- she about to give birth to a child and he worried about where they're going to spend the night.

Bethlehem is not holiday destination for Joseph and Mary. The city suffers under the burden of Roman occupation. They're there because they have to be there to fill out the "long form" of the Roman census.

According to Micah and the prophets this coming King would come from the same little clan Ephrathah. The birthplace of the “one who is to rule in Israel” is to be the same rural village of Bethlehem that King David himself came from.
For Micah, the "time" of this future ruler's birth is a completely new beginning, not a restoration of the old Jerusalem but the start of a new age -- the messianic age.

Micah describes the rule of this new king with the same words and images that God used to initiate David's own rule. Just as the Lord had declared that David should be "shepherd of my people Israel" (2 Samuel 5:2), so this new ruler from the Davidic line "shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord" (v.4). But the messianic ruler will outshine even David.
 
The ruler Micah foresees has powers beyond the boundaries of all the other earthly kings-- for He "shall be great to the ends of the earth." Other messianic prophecies speak of turmoil and upheaval at the beginning of Messiah's rule, but here, Micah proclaims that this ruler will reclaim the Davidic line and be "the one of peace."
 
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph are forced to stay in Bethlehem by order of a powerful empire, and when they arrive, they find a time of total disconnect.

We all know the story. The village is way too crowded and every inn in town is overflowing. They'll have to "make do," and camp out somewhere.

What they need is a drink of the milk of human kindness; what they get is the vinegar of rejection -- a door in their face, and an invitation to join the farm animals out back.

 The irony is that it is precisely in this Bethlehem disconnect -- in this place of discomfort and loneliness, far from the mainstream of Judean life, where they know no one, have no help -- it is in this disconnected place that God and humanity are finally reconnected.

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us ..." (John 1:14).

The Bethlehem incarnation is a reattachment that reminds us of the fundamental disconnect that had existed between God and humanity. In the Incarnation God boldly steps front and center into the human experience.

God and us, God and humanity -- we had not always been disconnected. However, when sin entered the world, the connection was broken.

There is no event in human history that carries with it so much promise as the Incarnation, or the Bethlehem reattachment.

But as we peer into the manger, we, too, face the need to connect, or possibly reconnect. Sometimes, we find ourselves searching for an experience of deeper understanding, or deeper spirituality. Occasionally we need to disconnect in order to reconnect -- reconnect with what truly matters.

Yet, maybe right here in this advent moment, God is giving us an opportunity to both disconnect in a sense from ourselves -- and attach in a new and meaningful way to God.

Perhaps, you are feeling that, like Bethlehem for so many centuries, you too have suffered under the burden of occupying powers -- powers like sin, guilt, selfishness, career ambition and cultural noise.

Now is the time to reattach. If, in the major disconnect of this hectic season, you find attachment to God through Jesus the Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, you have found – the One of Peace; the meaning of Christmas.

Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
Let us pray:
We thank you for this quiet time --
Without it we cannot get things back into focus--
But with it things can get back in order once more.

Keep us quiet, Lord, for--
It is in quietness we can
hear the angels sing again;
It is in quietness we can listen to the promise of peace on earth;
It is in quietness we can sort out our values
and put the important things first...
and when we are no longer anxious about the unimportant, we are able to enjoy this blessed season.*
Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
*(From John Olert, Jr., "It's Christmas Eve Again," Master Sermon Series (Royal Oak, Mich: Cathedral Publishers, 1975), 676.)

 
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