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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
See Theological Comment at End
Christmas II- 01/01/10 Micah 4:1-5, 5:2-4; Ps. 65; Is. 61:1-3; Mt. 2:19-23
Several themes float through our Scriptures this morning. So let's take a walk through the readings. They illustrate a profound truth about Biblical spirituality -- namely that it is all wrapped up in earthiness, history, politics, commerce, and the give and take of life. The God of the Bible delights in expressing Himself physically and in human flesh relationships, and in meeting those kinds of needs.
All through is interwoven the thread of purpose and meaning. Where is the world going? The world of Godly creation is not that realm of hopelessness and despair into which secular and pagan literature often descends. God is at work in the very midst of our walk in this world -- because it is His world, and He designed it for the Kingdom of heaven.
The children of God live in the world, but with those two other-worldly stabilities -- ontological stability, we know who we are because we stand on the Hand of God, and moral stability, we know where we are going because we listen to the Voice of God. We are fully in the world, but we are not of it. We are in the world, but the Source of our stability stands outside the world.
Did not Jesus tell us to pray: "Our Father...." That suggests a pretty intimate relationship. "Who art in heaven..." That sounds pretty far away. But then, "Thy Kingdom come... Thy will be done..." How? Where? "...on earth just like it is in heaven." This earthy stuff of the world is to be infused with the presence and purposes of God. "Give us this day, our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive...." "Lead us not into temptation...." Raise us above temptation -- so that we are not even interested in the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Why? Because "...Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory...."
I cannot think of a single pagan god or goddess who might be expected to tell their devotees to pray that way. And I cannot think of a single pagan god or goddess who would have produced the Scriptures we read today.
If God, who dwells in heaven, is making His will done on earth, then the spiritual is mixing it up with the material and with the nitty-gritty of our human relationships. All those earthly things are part and parcel of the making of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not a purely spiritual event, it is a sacramental event, in which the majesty and glory of God are being, ...and going to be, acted out right in our so often mixed up, messed up midst. And there is nothing at all that the worldly can do to prevent it.
Our part is really quite simple: Trust and Obey. Just
3 syllables. Simple -- but not easy. Like love (just one syllable), trusting and
obeying will test us to (and probably beyond) the limits of our being.
Micah is preaching and ministering to his people in the late 700's BC, during the same time as the early Isaiah (chaps. 1-39). Assyria is threatening from the north, and both Isaiah and Micah are predicting devastation for Israel, the northern kingdom. Both also predict eventual downfall for Judea in the south.
Our passage this morning from Micah has an almost literal duplication in chapter 2 of Isaiah. They were contemporaries and might well have shared their thoughts.
Micah says, "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains...."
Micah is not referring to a mountain being literally the highest, although Jerusalem was built on a high hill (or low mountain) which made it easy to defend. He was referring to a symbolic mountain, a spiritual and political mountain. The Bible has no separation of politics and religion. And neither should we. "King of kings and Lord of lords" is a political claim. God owns the whole cosmos, and defines the business of politics as well as religion.
And then Micah says something even more astounding about the mountain:
"And peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and we may walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks..."
Politics and religion are all working as one.
Micah is predicting, in the
midst of the coming devastation to his own people, that there will be a time
when the world will flock to Jerusalem. Why? Because they will come
to understand that the God of the Bible gives His people laws more just and
righteous than anyone else has. And they want to live under such laws.
I used to think of such passages (of which there are several in the Bible) as being a bit unrealistic (the worldly did not seem about to rush to the Kingdom of God) -- until I realized that it has indeed already happened, right under our noses, and we hardly noticed it.
During the 1800's, thousands of persons flocked to America, with mixed motives, to be sure, but many of those people came because they understood that we had a new kind of government, a government in fact based on Godly principles. There were enough Americans, even among our politicians, who understood and supported the sovereignty of God over America, so that we did indeed have a different kind of government. Thousands of those immigrants wanted to be under that kind of government for a genuinely free people -- a Godly government.
God did indeed raise up His
mountain to be the highest in the world, we became an economic powerhouse and
the very symbol of both political and religious freedom. And people did
indeed flock to it.
The terrible tragedy is that we, the Christians, were not able to sustain the gift which God had bestowed upon us. We lost our way. After we defeated King George III, we did not do our intellectual and spiritual homework. Just as when we helped defeat Hitler, we thought the war was over, not realizing that there is a spiritual war going on all the time, and that God had given us a new form of government to help wage that spiritual war, a government friendly and submissive to the law of God.
Our failure resulted in the most destructive and brutal century in human history, the 20th, with a brutality continuing on unabated to this very day. We Christians are the major cause of this tragedy of human life. The forces of death are no match for a intellectually, morally, and spiritually mature Body of Christ. But they are more than a match for us -- in our present condition.
When I say to Christians that we can turn the tide back again, almost without exception, they respond that, "Oh well, Jesus is coming back and the end times are upon us -- where we are promised trouble," -- the implication being that we should not worry about our side is not winning the spiritual war. It is supposed to be that way.
That strikes me as cowardly, hopeless, and a justification for doing nothing.
If there are hard times to be had with the 2nd Coming of Jesus, so be it. But let us be found on the battle field, not cowering behind our church walls. The early Christians began with 12 disciples, and had far more problems ahead of them than we have. There was no worldwide Church, no long history of the wonders which our Biblical faith had produced, no track record of astonishing successes, but the first Christians won the Roman Empire, beginning from scratch, within about three centuries.
We in the West ought to be ashamed of our attitude and behavior. There are Christians this very day winning converts in the face of active police and military persecution. Christian numbers in China and many other places, almost always where there is persecution -- are growing at a phenomenal rate.
It is we Christians here in the
comfort-saturated Westernized nations, no guns to our heads, which are failing
-- because we value our comfort more than the presence and sovereignty of God
among us. We have thereby helped produce the very conditions which will
bring guns to our heads. Our apathy and self-satisfaction has allowed the
Enemy to steal a march on us of over a century. The price of liberty is still
eternal vigilance -- under the law and grace of God. Where the law and
grace of God are not proclaimed, the chaos of power-struggle will prevail.
But then Micah continues, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient of days.... And He shall stand and feed 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."
This person to "come forth" shall be "great to the ends of the earth", that is, this ruler shall have everlasting dominion over all the earth, over all reality, over the whole creation.
Micah could not have known that
His name would be Yeshua, He-Who-Is-Saves, or that he, Micah, would be quoted in
the Gospel of Matthew birth story.
We see some of the same themes in Psalm 65, "Thou art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of them that remain in the broad sea." "They that dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth shall be afraid at Thy tokens..."
The Epistle comes from 2nd Isaiah (chaps. 40-end), who lived during the time of the restoration of Jerusalem, and of the exiles returning from Babylon, rebuilding the Temple -- some two centuries after Micah. Jesus quotes this passage as applying to Himself, Yeshua, ha Mashiach, Jesus, the Messiah, Jesus, the Anointed One, who will be great to the ends of the earth, the Sovereign to whom the nations will flow to be under that kind of Governor.
But then in the Gospel, we zoom down from these cosmic and international events to a family, which had fled from persecution in Judea, to Egypt, with "the hope of all the ends of the earth" cradled in their arms. The Holy Family is now returning back to the land of Israel because Herod, who wanted to kill the Messiah, is now dead. But Joseph learned that Herod's son reigned as successor, so he traveled on past, north of Israel, to Galilee -- where Jesus was raised. So much of the Good News story is that of family life, surviving from day to day, getting along in hostile circumstances. Just making it into adulthood. The Hope of all the ends of the earth seems so awfully fragile.
Why is God willing to risk so much on such a fragile lifeline?
But that is what He asks us to do as well. The cosmic and archetypal, the political and international, are all dependent, in the end, on the success of the personal and familial. Trust and obey. Those two primal stabilities.
The National Cathedral, an Episcopal Cathedral, stands on the highest point, like a mountain top, in Washington, DC, the largest building on the horizon. But nobody notices. It has become a pagan temple, and, if the Church does not repent, may find itself with not one stone left upon another.
It all hangs on whether we Christians will learn to trust God for our needs, our food, friendship, comfort, sustaining power, whether we will learn to move our dependency for these mothering gifts of life to God Himself.
It all hangs on whether we will learn to obey God, to follow His direction as we seek to build the relationship of heaven with Him and each other, the fathering side of life. Are we willing to be His child, no longer a child of the world, not even of our human parents?
The mature children of God
frighten the worldly half to death. Like Jesus, being already humbled, the
children of God cannot be humiliated. Having already died to self, they do not
fear death. They trust and obey at a level so deep, the world cannot touch it.
So the world is bereft of control over the children of God. To the degree that
we are mature in Christ, there is nothing the world, the flesh, or the devil can
do to control and manipulate us. We can stand and give our testimony for God
anywhere, anytime, with anyone.
Lord, hasten the day when the Church Apathetic will again become the Church Militant, when the worldly will fear us (or even better God), not we them. Hasten the day when people again say, "See, how those Christians love one another...!" Hasten the day when we can tell the world of the blessing of your Sovereignty over us in a convincing and winsome way. And hasten the day when we will have a boldness which the world cannot subvert Yeshua Meshiach, over this new year of 2010 years since Your birth here on earth, make St. Luke's church that kind of powerful witness for You and Your Kingdom -- right here on earth, just as it is in heaven! Give all Christians such a testimony -- within our own hearts to ourselves, a testimony we will share with our families and friends, a testimony to our rulers and governors -- that they too will flock to Your holy Mountain. Amen....
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NOTE: after the service, I was asked whether I meant to say that America was now "the" replacement for Israel, and that America held a special and unique place with God. To which my response was that, no, I did not intend that at all, only that America was "an" example of what any nation can now do.
America was, I think, next to Israel, the most Biblically founded nation in history, but that is no guarantee of anything. Like Israel itself, only so long as we remain faithful will God honor us as a nation. We have been deeply and tragically unfaithful, and MUST recover our Biblical foundations. Augustine warned Rome in his book, The City of God, that any nation which did not submit itself to the purposes of God would perish.
Furthermore, when Jesus told the woman at the well (John 4) that neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria is there to be "the" center of worship, but that God now seeks persons to worship Him in truth and spirit, He meant, I believe, that geographical concerns are now irrelevant, and that any nation, any people group, can in their own time and place worship God in that way. America's task, if we recover our Biblical foundations, is to help spread that news, so that people can flock to any nation at all which does indeed represent the presence of God on earth.
That is the true way to a "united nations". There is no other. We will be united under the law and grace of God, or we will not be united at all -- other than defectively. The imposition of force and deceit to bring people together only guarantees the continuation of war. That is all the godless United Nations can do. God can do better.
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