December 19, 2021
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
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.
Family and friends who love and care for one another. Warmth and security provided by a home you can afford shining bright for all to see. Meal after meal of special dishes meant to bring out everyone’s best smile and sweatpants. Evergreen trees, presents and vacations are all among the things you expect to have this Christmas. Your Christmas expectations cause you excitement for the season, so I doubt that all your expectations for Christmas have anything to do with this big blue trash can.
The things you expect to put in a big blue trash can are not good anymore. The Old Testament prophet Micah lived at a time when people had big blue trash cans for hearts. The Lord gave Micah these words in Micah 3 to describe the people, 1 …“Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel. Should you not embrace justice, 2 you who hate good and love evil.” The leaders of the government abused their power to reward evil and punish good behavior. Then, he spoke of the spiritual leaders, 5 This is what the Lord says: “As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them.” The prophets were supposed to speak God’s Word to the people, but they stopped speaking the truth. Instead, they lied to the people who gave them lots of money, bribes and favors telling them the God had plans to make their lives peaceful. And for those who did not treat them with extravagance and put them on a pedestal as if they were God, rather than his servants, they instigated fights against them. And if you think the other people were good and unaffected by these evil leaders, we hear this description in Micah 2, 2 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! The people of his day had hearts of big blue trash cans filled with wicked, evil desires. They were hearts that were not good, destined and deserving of God’s punishment.
You are in danger if your heart is also a big blue trash can this Christmas season. The sins Micah pointed out among the people of his time live in your heart as well. He called out hating good and loving evil. So, when you drink too much losing control of your senses and call it a “good night,” that is evil. When you tell dirty joke, spread some gossip, break curfew, hit or steal from your sibling or fill in the blank, then giggle with others or to yourself at how clever or superior you are to others, that is evil. Micah also called out lying, hypocrisy and treating someone well when they benefit you and attacking those who disagree with you. When you do all of that, play favorites and do not love your enemies as God calls you to, that is evil. Micah even called out thinking about evil stuff when you are lying in bed. Even your dirty little secrets that fill your mind at night are not good in the eyes of God. And if your expectations for this Christmas have little to do with Jesus and he is just another stop or box to check for this time of year, then you have a big blue trash can heart that is not good and in danger of punishment from God.
The cure for a garbage heart is unexpected. The cure for the people of Micah’s day and for you came from Bethlehem. It was not the city Israelites in Micah’s day would have expected a cure to come from to save them. They would have expected Jerusalem the capital city to produce the leader, the ruler who could make their lives better. Bethlehem is the unexpected cure for you because you get caught up in expecting something other than the Boy from Bethlehem to give you peace this Christmas. You keep switching out things in your heart to find what will give you joy, satisfaction, fulfillment or peace. As you replace each thing it is like throwing them in the garbage. You expect so many things will make you happy this Christmas and you put so much effort into them and it distracts you from Bethlehem. Whether you lived in Micah’s day or today, God’s plan was to cure your no-good heart in an unexpected way revealed in Micah 5, 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.” Bethlehem although it was a small town would produce the eternal ruler for Israel. In John 1, we hear about the One whose origins stretch back before the beginning of all things, 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus, the Son of God, the Light of the World, was born a boy in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was only the beginning for Jesus. God revealed Jesus would be born in Bethlehem through Micah around 700 years before the angel appeared to Mary announcing the virgin will give birth to a boy. Micah 5 goes on, 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.” During Micah’s time as prophet, the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria. And through Micah God revealed Babylon would capture the southern kingdom of Judah, leaving Israel a shadow of its former glory who bowed to the foreign kingdoms of Persia, Greece and Rome. Thus, they were abandoned for a time. Then, with the birth of a son, a boy, with the birth of Jesus, true Israel would return to him by faith trusting in him as their King who would bring them to his heavenly kingdom. Micah continued to describe the Boy from Bethlehem, 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.” Jesus the great Shepherd King holds power over all the earth. He is the gentle shepherd who cares for his wandering sheep, while also wielding great strength and power crushing the devil and false teachers, the wolves, who threaten his flock. He provides you with true security and Micah concludes the description with the words, 5 “And he will be our peace.”
Peace is the expectation you chase after at Christmas. God has brought you peace by getting rid of your big blue trash can, no-good heart of sin. In Hebrews 10, the author reveals how Jesus brought you peace with 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. Jesus quoted Psalm 40 referencing the animal sacrifices and offerings to show that God did not put the Old Testament animal sacrifices in place to save us, but to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. The first law pointed to a substitute dying to save from sin. Jesus’ sinless life, his body put to death and blood shed willingly did save you from your sins as we hear in Romans 8, 32 “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
When you approach the manger in Bethlehem it is better than coming to the Christmas tree. The gift you have been given through the boy born in Bethlehem is peace. Jesus stands before God reminding him that you have been cleared of all charges; none of your sins will be held against you as we read in Ephesians 2, 14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” God does look at you with anger for your garbage heart of no-good sin and evil, and you are not his enemy through Jesus.
Two unexpected expecting mothers gave thanks as they looked forward to the unexpected peace of the first Christmas. In Luke 1, we hear about Mary visiting Elizabeth. Mary who was unexpectedly pregnant as a virgin, was pregnant with Jesus, and Elizabeth who was unexpectedly pregnant as an old woman who had never been able to have children, was pregnant with John the Baptist. Both women were filled with joy as they visited, 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary praised and thanked God for sending her Savior. She went on to say, 54 “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Centuries earlier, God prophesied in Micah 5, 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.” Carrying her unexpected child, Mary praised God for fulfilling his promise to send Jesus to bring Israel, the descendants of Abraham together. In Romans 9, we read, 8 … “it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” You are children of Abraham, brothers and sisters of the boy born in Bethlehem who brought you peace with God that first Christmas.
It is ridiculous to have a big blue trash can here in the front of church this morning. It is more ridiculous for you to have your expectations for peace this Christmas and for your life based on things that will end up in a big blue trash can. It is not that you must sit in a room by yourself with four blank walls reading the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2 over and over. You can have the expected tree, lights, presents, parties, trips and traditions. However, as you prepare for Christmas this advent season keep Jesus as the top priority in your heart. And you will have unexpected peace. The unexpected peace Jesus brings is peace that lasts unlike so many other things that get thrown away and replaced. Jesus’ peace lasts because, Micah 5:4 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. Rejoice this Advent with Micah, Elizabeth and Mary. Peace is yours from the unexpected Boy from Bethlehem. Amen.