“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 live secure,
for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;” —Micah 5:4
Today we turn to one of the Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, Micah. As a reading group, we recently slogged through this slim book, finding the poetry challenging, graphic, and at times very angry. The book reads as a court case with accusation against the ruling elite, and prophecies of their destruction.
Micah began writing three centuries after King David’s death when the common Israelites’ land was being plundered by Jerusalem’s aristocracy and lives were threatened by the warring Assyrians.
As a member of the literate class, Micah rails against the top 10% who controlled wealth, politics, and the temple. These ten-percenters had taken away ancestral land from the poor (2:1-5), evicted widows from their homes (2:9), and fixed the scales with weights to cheat customers (6:10-11). They endorsed worship of a false god, Baal, as a compromise to get along. Judges were taking bribes (7:3), and false prophets would say anything for money.
Micah is filled with anger. But Micah also glances to anger’s companion: hope.
Listen for God’s word as I read from Micah 5.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up
until the time when she who is in labor
has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
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 live secure,
for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.
Dear God, Quiet the noise of the world around and startle us with your truth. Breathe your spirit into our hearts and minds so our meditations and these words become a lamp to our pathway and a light of hope, bringing us closer to you. In the name of the Christ child, we pray. Amen.
here once was a king of uncommon royal lineage. He was a king above kings, with power and might that humbled all others. Statesmen trembled at his pronouncements. None dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all who opposed him. Tribute arrived daily from lesser kings who hoped to gain his favor.
And yet this mighty king fell in love with a humble maiden who lived in a poor village of his kingdom. She was without earthly treasures, vulnerable to the wars and famines, and she was always at the mercy of those who lorded power over her.
For some reason, the king loved everything about this creature, seeing all of what was good and kind about her.
How could he declare his love? One alternative would be to appear before her, resplendent in his royal robes, surrounded with the Royal Guard, armed with power to impress her. He could bring her to the palace and crown her with jewels and clothe her in the finest silks. She would surely not resist this type of proposal, for no one dared to resist the king.
Yet, the king was not a fool. He understood how so many people coveted luxury and power, thinking such trappings would solve their problems. Would she? The king wanted her love, her heart, and her soul, not her devotion to objects.
So, if he brought her to the palace, would she love him?
She might say she loved him. Perhaps she would go through the motions all the while living a life of empty duty. Nurse a private grief for her other dreams now lost. Become greedy and wonder if there were more? Or, would she just commit herself out of fear?
Could she be happy at his side, loving him for himself, and loving herself for all of what he saw in her?
The king did not want a wife who behaved as just a subject to his laws, cringing at his word, and grudging complying with all he said and did. He wanted her love, as a companion whose love knew no restrictions or limitations. He wanted an intimate whose voice would speak to him without hesitation.
Love with his beloved maiden must be expressed with equality she would understand and therefore needed to cross the chasm that threatened to keep them apart. In short, he wanted the maiden to love him for himself and not for any other material reason. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
To win her love, without overwhelming her and without destroying her free will to choose, the king realized he had only one choice. He had to become like her, without power or riches, and without the title of king. Only then would she be able to see him for who he was and not for what his position made him. To become her equal, he must leave behind all that he had.
Of course, he did this. The stuff of wealth and of having others serve him were nothing compared to winning her heart. So, he became a servant. He took off his royal robes of silk and linen and put on the common clothes of the poorest of the kingdom. The king left his castle, and entered an out of the way village no one would suspect.
At the break of a new day, this maiden found herself face to face with a common man who requested an opportunity to speak with her and, in time, to court her for her hand in marriage.
And the courtship goes on….
By now you have recognized this as a parable. It is adapted from “The King and the Humble Maiden” by Søren Kierkegaard. The king is God and the beloved maiden is you and me.
Any attempt to describe the incarnation is always flawed—how do we imagine the infinite becoming finite? But in Advent, we try to articulate why God chose to embrace us so completely.
God could have remained aloof, feared as a judgmental ruler, perceived as unable to have compassion for our human frailty, and beyond our imagination, so God’s love compelled another way. The central mystery of the incarnation is God chose to enter into our messy human life. Anytime we grasp this divine gift, we also find hope for our lives.
In Jesus, God traversed the divine-human divide, so we can know God’s personal presence in our mortal existence. Through Jesus, we believe God knew sorrow and joy, famine and feast, tyranny and friendship just as we experience in life. The incarnation reveals, by choosing to be one of us and going to the cross on our behalf, God understands the extreme of human suffering, grief, betrayal, and death.
By raising the lifeless body of Jesus from the grave, God affirms the grave is not the end of the life God created. Through the incarnation, we witness God’s commitment to build a community by love, not power or coercion or fear.
For God has so loved this world, God gave his only son. God’s love has been the driving force since the very beginning of creation, during the time of the prophets, and still today.
The Gospel of Matthew relies upon Micah’s prophecy of a messiah as it tells the story of Jesus’ birth. But If we think of the passage from Micah, as only a prophecy to be fulfilled eight centuries later for Christians, we miss Micah’s message to his own people then and potentially for us today.
Israel’s situation was in extreme distress. Jerusalem was under siege by foreign powers and the political and religious rulers had become so insecure with their own infighting, rather than care for the people, they abused the minorities. No one trusted the elites, regardless of their pedigree. The people felt as though their backs were up against a wall, with no alternatives. So often it is when we are at our wits end and have no hope that we then listen to the wisdom of one who calls it like it is. Then we can also trust the hope they see.
Micah speaks beyond the current circumstances by reminding the Israelites of God’s faithfulness. By pointing to “one of the little clans of Judah,” meaning a place of no significance, Micah asks them to remember redemption often comes from the least expected places. Their hope is from not part of the current regime, but from of old, one who “shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord” as a shepherd, not a warrior or statesman. Micah points away from retribution and war and discrimination to instead call the people to seek security through “peace”. Micah insisted their only hope was to trust salvation that would come from an unexpected place and perhaps a lowly shepherd-servant.
Later in this slim book of prophecy, we hear Micah call the people to not just rest their hopes in someone else as a leader, but to embody faithfulness to God. We know these words; they are emblazed in Kenilworth Union’s seal. “What does the lord require of you? To love justice, do kindness and walk humbly with God (6:8).” The hope Micah promised was not just a future fantasy but was possible right then, in their lives as our hope is found in the same faithfulness: Loving justice, doing kindness and walking humbly with God.
The irony of Advent, or any day, is that our hopes will be fulfilled, but not in ways we expect or maybe even appreciate. In the days and weeks ahead, we can wonder and remember how amazing God’s love is: that it longs for us so much that it came into our own, put on our humanity, moved into our neighborhood, just hoping we would glimpse God’s presence and start anew our relationship.
Several years ago, while I worshiped with my family in Edinburgh at Greyfrier’s Kirk, I heard the melody to a hymn I thought I knew so well. Although I knew the words by heart, I opened the hymnal and was startled. I hope you will let our Hymn of Response startle you to see something new in the familiar. To be surprised by grace.
 I first heard the story of “The King and the Maiden” from Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin in the Fields, in his November 24, 2013 sermon and have since read it as a Christmas parable, retold with a variety of nuances. It is adapted from Søren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.
 Brian Hebblethwaite “Incarnation,” New & Enlarged Handbook of Christian Theology, Donald W. Musser & Joseph L Price Ed. (Nashville: Abindon Press, 2003) 259.