Micah 5:2-5a – An Ancient Ruler from the House of Bread

Sermon for Advent 4 and our Sunday School Christmas program.

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Micah 5:2-5a

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me one Bethlehem with Star
who is to be ruler in Israel,

whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

3   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.

4   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.

5   And he shall be their peace.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Where you are from can say a lot about you. If someone tells you they are from Wisconsin, you can picture them wearing their cheese head and green jersey on Sunday. If someone tells you they are from Alabama, you can see their old pickup with a Confederate flag and gun rack on the back window. In high school, I went on a trip to Washington D.C. with other high schoolers from across the country. When they heard I was from North Dakota, they inevitably responded, “Oh! Fargo, eh?” (the movie Fargo had recently been released).

Where you are from can say a lot about you. And this text from Micah tells us about a ruler who would come from the little town of Bethlehem.

She’s a little town with a long, sad story of pain and sorrow. In Bethlehem, Jacob buried Rachel – the wife he loved (Gen. 35:16, 19; 48:7). Bethlehem was the home of a concubine who was brutally raped and killed which led to a civil war (Jdg. 19-20). Bethlehem was the place of a severe famine that drove Naomi, her husband, and her two sons into the pagan land of Moab. Widowed and sonless, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem to spend the rest of their lonely days. And, saddest of all, Bethlehem is where the infant boys were slaughtered after Herod learned from the magi that the King of the Jews had been born there.

Even though Bethlehem had her sad stories, she produced an important ruler too. After returning with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem, Ruth got remarried to a man named Boaz. Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had eight sons – the youngest was named David. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem – of all places – to anoint a new king because King Saul had abandoned God. Fearing that Saul would kill him for this, Samuel went, as God directed him, to the house of Jesse. Seven of Jesse’s sons were paraded before Samuel, but God told him that none of those were to be the new king.

So Samuel asks Jesse if he has any more sons. There was the youngest, but he was too unimportant to be there when Samuel came, so he was out tending the sheep. What interest could there be in him? Samuel says, “Send for him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.” When David arrives, God tells Samuel to anoint him as king. From his humble beginnings, in that sad, little town of Bethlehem, shepherd David was anointed to be king. But David quickly forgot his lowly roots. David became a king with blood on his hands, a murderer.

So here in Micah, God says, “It’s back to the little town of Bethlehem again.” Again, from humble, insignificant Bethlehem, God will raise up one who will rule Israel. But he isn’t really from Bethlehem either. His “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

Cross and CommunionWhere you are from can say a lot about you, and when you combine these two statements from Micah, you learn a lot about this Ruler. He is from the tiny town whose name means “House of Bread,” but his coming is also from ancient days. If His coming is from ancient days, then He is the Ancient of Days. This ruler is, of course, Jesus. Because Jesus is from ancient days and from Bethlehem, “House of Bread,” He is the Living Bread which came down from heaven (Jn. 6:35, 41).

Jesus, the ancient Ruler from the House of Bread, He comes to rule shepherd you, His people, in the strength and majesty of God.

Where you are from says a lot about you. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are citizens of the kingdom of this Ruler who comes from ancient days. You are part of the kingdom of God because your Ruler is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:18-20). You dwell secure because Jesus has fully paid for all your sins on the cross. And though you live in this world full of tribulation, Jesus Himself is your peace because He has reconciled you back to God. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – Rejoice for God Rejoices over You

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Gaudate Sunday and the baptism of Leah Yvonne Lorentz.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14  Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Advent Wreath Guadete
O daughter of Jerusalem!

15   The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.

The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.

17   The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

18   I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.

19   Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

20   At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;

for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Leah,

Today, you are baptized. Today, you are joined with Christ’s death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-5). Today is a day, as our text says, to rejoice and exalt with all your heart because, in your baptism, God has taken away all the judgments against you and cleared away all your enemies. Today, dear Leah, God has come to be with you – you are joined to Him. Because of your baptism today, you have no reason to ever fear evil.

And yet, you live in a world filled with hate, death, and evil. Tony and Angela (and all parents here), I am sure that you worry about what kind of world your child will live in. And I have to admit that I do too. The seemingly random terrorist attacks, of which we have heard whispers around the world, are here. The carefree life that most of us grew up with may very well be a thing of the past.

Leah, you are baptized, and now you have a target on your back. Satan will do everything in his power to cause you to leave the faith into which you have been baptized. Satan will attack you in ways that we, your brothers and sisters in Christ, cannot yet see. Satan will torment you in ways that your parents cannot even fathom. Leah, the devil, the world, and even you yourself will oppress you and give you plenty of reasons to mourn.

And yet, dear Leah, these words from God are for you just as they are for all of your brothers and sisters in Christ here today:

Blessings from the CrossSing aloud. Rejoice. Exalt with all your heart. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. God is in your midst. You shall never again fear evil. You see, Leah (and all of you here), your existence as a believer is the “already and not yet” of deliverance. Notice how all of these promises are yours now, and still God says that He is a mighty One who will save. He will gather those who are morning. He will deal with all your oppressors. God will change your shame into praise. He will restore your fortunes.

Leah, you will find out, like we, your brothers and sisters in Christ, have found out – life as a baptized child of God isn’t all peaches and cream. You will waver in your faith because you will have reason to mourn. You will have oppressors. You will have shame. Ill fortune will come upon you. And yet, dear Leah, rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice! (Php. 4:7).

As we heard in our Gospel text (Lk. 11:18-28), even John the Baptizer, the forerunner and herald of Jesus, the one who pointed to Jesus saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), the one of whom Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John,” – even his faith wavered. John sat in prison for proclaiming the Word of God. In that dark, dank place, John sent some of his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” And Jesus healed many and said, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

Jesus doesn’t lead a throng of individuals who needed healing to John’s cell window and heal them so John can see. Instead, Jesus simply sends individuals with a message to preach. Leah, you may, at times, see God do mighty things. But the most important things that God does for you will be what you hear in the message of the Gospel, the proclamation of forgiveness which you cannot see. God and His work will most often be hidden. Even Zephaniah’s name says this – Zephaniah means ‘Yahweh is hidden.’ Even though God’s work is hidden from your eyes, rejoice because it is not about what you see but what you hear. So hear God’s promises to you in His Word. Even when you cannot see the forgiveness, life, and deliverance promised, those promises remain true, certain, and unchangeable.

Baptism 2Leah, today rejoice for your God rejoices over you. God rejoices and sings over you and exalts over you with loud singing because He has made you His own. You live under Him in His kingdom. And you will serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. So, dear Leah, and all you saints, “Rejoice, rejoice Christ is born of the virgin Mary. Rejoice.” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Malachi 3:1-7b – A Herald Heralding the Herald of the King

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Malachi 3:1-7b

John the Baptizer1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

6 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine you are driving south on Columbia Rd. to go Christmas shopping. You’ve passed through the UND campus and crossed the bridge over the train yard and Demers. You are next to Altru and you hit the light next to Perkins red. You are the first car to the light. You wait as the cross traffic makes its way through the intersection. Finally, the light turns green. You start accelerating and, suddenly, you are T-boned by someone who didn’t stop. Your car is totaled. You have a broken arm and leg. The only good thing is that you are close to the hospital. After surgery, physical therapy, and a week-long hospital stay you are finally ready to go home; however, it will be five weeks before you can return to work.

You end up having to take the other driver to court. The judge asks you what compensation you are looking for. You tell your sad story of how the bills were piling up because you couldn’t work. You tell him about how you had late fees for your utility bills and mortgage because you had no income. You conclude by telling the judge, “I want justice. I want all my hospital bills paid for. I want compensation for all the time I missed work. I want the late fees for my bills covered. And I want a car that will replace the car that was destroyed. I want justice.”

The judge asks the other driver, “Did you hear all of that?” The other driver stares at the ground and nods. “Well,” says the judge, “are you willing to fix what you have broken?”

The other driver says, “I know I’m at fault. But I can’t afford all of that. I have a family of my own, and we struggle to make ends meet. I know I have made a mess of the plaintiff’s life, but I can’t afford to fix what I’ve broken. Please, judge, have mercy on me.”

The judge appears to have a soft spot for the defendant. He looks at you inquiringly, and you respond, “Your honor, I’m the victim here. I simply what what is right. It’s not as though I’m asking for millions in pain and suffering. I simply want justice. I demand justice.” So, the judge rules in favor of you. You get every penny that you are asking for, and life returns to normal.

One month later, you are driving along in your car. You hit a patch of ice and slide into oncoming traffic hitting an approaching vehicle head-on. You are fine, and neither car has too much damage. But, in the other vehicle, a child was eating her snack. The impact made the child choke she dies.

You find yourself, once again, in court before the same judge. The judge asks the other driver, “What compensation are you looking for?”

The mother’s eyes are filled with tears. She’s barely able to speak through her sobs. “Your honor, that was the worst day of my life. Because of that day, I will never get to see my daughter again. I simply want justice.”

You burst out, “I can’t give justice! I can’t replace what has been lost! I can’t give her child back to her. Please, your honor, have mercy.”

JudgeThe judge looks at you and says, “I remember you. You were here before and demanded justice. I am ordering you to pay for every expense. You will pay all expenses to have the car fixed. You will pay for the funeral. Beyond that, you will pay $50 million in pain and suffering and be imprisoned for vehicular homicide.” And you are taken directly to jail.

The moral of the story: “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Malachi has just told the people that they have wearied God by complaining about everything – every injustice, every misfortune, every bump in the road – they have been complaining about everything except their own sins and offences (Mal. 2:17). The people kept asking for God’s judgment and justice to fall upon evil. The people want God’s fiery wrath to scorch the sinners. “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”

The people crying out for justice in this text might not like it so much when it comes because they are not as good as they thought. Those calling out for God to punish evil are going to find out they are more evil than they thought. And you too, have a care. Do not be too eager for God’s judgment and justice to fall upon the guilty. You will not like it when justice comes because it comes for all – it comes for you.

“Who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?” (v. 2) “Christ is not merely the Purifier but also the purifying Agent. He is not only the Blacksmith but also the Fire; not only the Cleaner but also the Soap” (Luther). Jesus comes to burn away all the evil and injustice of the world. You too are evil and unjust, and you will not endure the coming of Christ. You will not stand when he appears.

Repent. Instead of asking for judgment and wrath, beg, plead, “Lord, have mercy upon me the sinner” (Lk. 18:13).

Here, Malachi, whose name means ‘my messenger/herald,’ announces that God is going to send another messenger who will prepare the way of the King. A herald heralds the herald of the King because the people had better be ready for His coming. This herald that Malachi spoke of came. John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness preaching, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill made low. The axe is already laid at the foot of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be hacked down and thrown into the fire” (Lk. 3:4-5, 9).

John’s bony finger points at us and says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Lk. 3:7). Don’t even try to pretend that the finger of the Law doesn’t point in your direction. When you see the evil in this world, instead of crying out for God’s justice, cry out for God’s mercy.

In repentance, we see John’s finger pointing away from us and pointing to Jesus. John’s preaching changes from, “You brood of vipers,” to, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We hear from even from this text that though we deserve to be devoured in the refiner’s fire, “I the Lord do not change; therefore, you are not consumed.”

Advent is all about the coming of Jesus. He has come in the flesh by way of the Virgin. He is coming again in judgment on the Last day. And Jesus came preaching just as John did, “Repent.” But, unlike John, Jesus brought the very grace and mercy that you need.

Cross and CommunionJustice for your sins has already been doled out, but not on you. Your sins have been paid for, but not by you. Jesus comes here and now in this Sacrament. Jesus’ body is broken – for you. Jesus’ blood is shed – for you for the forgiveness of sins. Return to Him, once again, in repentance and faith. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.