Micah 5:2-5 (text); Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 2:1-11
December 21, 2014 KSYC (Yreka, CA) • Download this meditation (PDF)
“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… And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD” (Micah 5:2-4).
This Sunday before Christmas we will focus on the little town of Bethlehem and the wise men who visited the newborn “King of the Jews.” Let me first point out some misconceptions related to these stories.
One of the most-loved Christmas carols is entitled “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” but the title itself is a misnomer. These men from the east who followed the Lord’s star to Bethlehem were not kings, but “magi” or “wise men.” And no one knows how many there were, but they brought three different gifts. They were not named, contrary to popular tradition. Lastly, most nativity scenes with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, three wise men, shepherds and animals are far from reality. When the wise men arrived in Bethlehem, days, weeks or months have passed since Jesus was born, so the baby was not in a manger anymore, but was already in a “house.”
During the time of the prophet Micah, Israel enjoyed peace and prosperity, so they forgot their forefathers’ God and turned into idolatry, economic and legal injustice, and violence. So through Micah and other prophets, God warned his people of impending destruction by the Assyrians if they did not repent.
The book of Micah then is about judgment against Israel and its restoration afterwards. To restore his people Israel from the Assyrian and later Babylonian exiles, God prophesies a coming “ruler of Israel” (v 2) and a shepherd who will “shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v 4).
This Shepherd-King will come from a small, insignificant town called Bethlehem, which was the hometown of King David. When the fullness of time came, the Roman Caesar ordered that all should register for taxation in their own hometowns. This is why Joseph took Mary his wife to Bethlehem, because he was born there.
The word Bethlehem means “house of bread,” that is, Bethlehem was a fertile land where grain grew in abundance. Remember that Ruth gleaned from the fields of Boaz in Bethlehem. It is in the “house of bread” where Jesus our Shepherd-King, our Bread from Heaven, was born. Our Shepherd-King was born in the “house of bread.” This fulfilled the prophecy of Micah.
A Ruler of His People: Micah prophesied that the ruler of Israel who will come from Bethlehem will be “from of old” and “from ancient days.” His lineage will be ancient, dating back to King David, who ruled Israel two centuries before Micah. Also, the origin of Micah’s Shepherd-King is eternal, and therefore he is divine, since the eternal God is also called “the Ancient of Days.”
This Ruler was the focus of the Old Testament from the beginning. All the way back to Genesis 49:10, Jacob already prophesied that the line of his son Judah will produce a Son who would hold a king’s staff and scepter and whom people would obey. Isaiah 9:6-7 tells us that a Son would be born who would be the Prince of Peace who would rule in peace, justice and righteousness. And Zechariah 9:9 tells Israel, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he.”
Jesus was born “King of the Jews,” as the wise men called him. But his earthly life was marked by insult, humiliation, suffering and death, not as one of glory, power and authority befitting a king. From his heavenly glory, he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).
Though he was a Suffering Servant all the way to the cruel cross during his incarnation, he is now the exalted King not only of the Jews, but of the universe, ruling from heaven, directing the affairs of his Church, and of the kings and kingdoms of this world for his people’s benefit. And when he returns as the King of kings and Lord of lords, he will make all his enemies a footstool for his feet and rule over them with a rod of iron. At that time, “every knee should bow… and every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11). This is what the angel announced to Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
But this King will also “shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD” (Mic 5:4).
A Shepherd of His Flock: When Jesus was born, lowly shepherds were the first ones to hear of the “good news of great joy for all people.” It was not the kings, the mighty, the rich and the wise of this world to whom this great news was announced. It was proclaimed to poor, lowly, outcast shepherds in the fertile fields of Bethlehem.
It was here that their patriarch Jacob buried Rachel, and it was here that David, a great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, would tend his sheep. It was here that the boy David composed Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”
The theme of the Shepherd of Israel is mentioned not only in Micah, but in many places in the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 5:2: God commanded David, when he was anointed king, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.”
But because of the sins of Israel’s shepherds and sheep, God sent the Assyrians and later the Babylonians to severely chastise them. But after God punished Israel, he also promised forgiveness and restoration to Ezekiel, “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them” (Ezek 34:23). Isaiah foresaw this Shepherd centuries before Ezekiel’s prophecy, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:11).
God restored Israel back in the Promised Land and gave them good shepherds to turn them back to him. But afterwards, there was no more prophet in Israel to proclaim God’s word to them until… the great Shepherd-King was born in Bethlehem.
Dear Friends: Only one King, the one Micah prophesied who will be born in Bethlehem, will fulfill his duties as the Righteous King and Good Shepherd. Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, reigns forevermore from the right hand of God. He rules his people in peace, righteousness and justice.
This Ruler is not only our King, but our Good Shepherd as well, as he says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).. He will tend his flock, feeding us with Living Water and the Bread of Life, so that we may be strengthened in our difficult pilgrimage on this earth. He will gather us in his arms and carry us in his bosom, as lambs that are weak and defenseless. When we were still weak sinners in the kingdom of darkness, the good shepherd laid down his life for us and led us to where there was light to guide our paths. When we are stubborn and rebellious, he will gently lead us into paths of righteousness and restore our souls.
As you celebrate Christmas, remember that when you’re a Christian, you have a King from Bethlehem who rules over your lives. Is Jesus the King of your lives? And you have a Shepherd from Bethlehem who calls you and leads you. Do you know your Shepherd’s voice when he calls you, and follow his commands as he leads you in your earthly pilgrimage?
Remember too that no matter how difficult your path may be, your Great Shepherd will lead you through the valleys of death into green pastures and still waters. Along the way, wolves are prowling to snatch you from your Father’s hand. But when you are in the arms of your Good Shepherd, no one can snatch you out of his bosom. And finally, remember that from his heavenly throne, Jesus our Shepherd-King awaits you, where you will dwell with him in the house of the Lord forever.
LET US PRAY: Merciful Father, you so loved the world that you gave your only begotten Son. He who was rich for ourselves became poor, the eternal Word made flesh, a great Light shining in the darkness. Only because of your Word and Spirit have we seen that Light and been drawn into its brightness. Give us the grace humbly and joyfully to receive your Son even as the shepherds and princes who welcomed him, and to look no further for our redemption than to this child lying in a manger.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.