2But 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 origin is from of old, from ancient days. Bethlehem Ephratah, the little city of Judah south of Jerusalem, the place where Benjamin was born and where Rachel died. A town so small it was not even recorded when Judah was assigned the area under Joshua. Nor, would it ever amount to much, this town being of little importance over against the mighty Jerusalem so near by. For most of its days and for almost every one of its residents life went on unnoticed by the wide world around them. They were simply too little to be considered.
We know how that is. We know how they feel. Which one of us hasn’t had dreams that came to nothing in the cold light of an indifferent day. Who among us hasn’t felt like they were tossed around at the whim of an uncaring world? Who here hasn’t felt small and unimportant? Like their life hasn’t measured up? Forgotten, ignored or rightly written off? Who hasn’t belittled themselves before others by a thoughtless word, or careless and negligent action? Who hasn’t felt justifiably little?
Yet God has a habit of choosing the lowly and using the little to accomplish big things, even as the world looks right past, never once seeing what’s before them. Bethlehem, so small and lowly, who could have guessed? First mighty King David, then the Messiah Himself! God’s ways are not our ways!
The Messiah’s ways are not our ways, and yet they are! This is the glory of Micah’s promise. from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. This ruler to born among the little people of Bethlehem is eternally begotten of the Father. True God and True Man. Just like us, yet completely not like us, but His father in heaven. Jesus was given purely out of mercy, not because we had deserved this or had wished for it, but because this is the way it had been predestined from eternity.
3Therefore 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. Israel, too little to withstand the Assyrians, or the Persians, or the Greeks, or the Romans, would find themselves at the mercy of others and scattered to the corners of the globe until the full mercy of God was ready to collect not just the Jews, but all of God’s people bringing one and all back to Him in Christ. But first the stage must be set with a thousand little things, like a Roman census so that the Messiah, like His ancestor David, would go forth from the humble city of Bethlehem.
Notice too, dear friends, this one little thing: even while in exile and seemingly abandoned God still calls them brothers! And it is still the same with us! Despite the waywardness of His people, God is not ashamed to call them brethren. And He never stops putting in place every last little thing they need to stand with Him again!
4And 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. 5And he shall be their peace.
That King, who will hold all nations under His sway, will not do battle with force of arms and of soldiers. He will use no military force, no sword, but will “feed his flock.” This will be a strange sight, a new kind of fighting, which … even the disciples of Christ had not yet understood … after the death of Christ … The idea, then, is this: “That King Christ will stand and feed His flock. That is, He will declare the Word of the Gospel, and He will do this in the strength of the Lord, that is, with the Holy Spirit cooperating and adding His efficacy.” That Gospel, that humble-appearing Word, will set itself against all the gates of hell and powers of the air, for it is “the power of God,” Romans 1:16. When those who do battle under this King will have heard and believed by the power of this Word, they will conquer death, sin, and hell.1
Such greatness in a little package, ruling and nourishing as both the Governor and Shepherd of His people. The mighty God with all the strength and majesty of the deity in the frail and finite nature of human flesh and blood. Yet in that flesh and blood lies the promise of the angels, and the vision of His everlasting kingdom. For this promised Messiah is so great and brings peace by being so small.
First as that small Christmas child … Who would ever guess that this baby would be the King of Kings? John knew, while yet in the womb he was already preparing the way for His Lord. And so Elizabeth knew too. Still unseen, and Jesus’ greatness was already bringing peace and joy for young and old and pre-born alike! But also great curiosity to the wise men already reading the signs in the east, and soon great vexation and fear to Herod still clutching at his throne in Jerusalem. All this from a baby. Truly God’s ways are not our ways!
But in another sense this same promised one will bring about our peace by being small even when He is much older. For there will come a time when in the fullness of manhood He will be made the least among men. When He suffers the humiliating death by crucifixion (between common thieves no less!) and is rejected by God His father because He was made sin – made the curse of sin for us – for our salvation! (Epistle) 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Consider the greatness of His strength to stand and deliver us in this way. Welcoming even abandonment and exile, there was no amount of humiliation and suffering this Good Shepherd was unwilling to endure to bring back His beloved flock – His little lambs. And not just us, but for everyone to the ends of the earth.
Over the season of Advent we have heard the many prophecies of the Old Testament continue to narrow our focus down to this one little truth about to be revealed in the little town of Bethlehem. With baited breath and ears straining to hear the cry of the baby ring out in the darkened night, all we can do now is wait. Wait for that sign almost too little to be real. But in this long promised little package, this swaddled bundle, the eternal deity wrapped up in human flesh and blood we receive the end of abandonment and exile. The reign of sin and death are coming to an end for the true King is about to come into His kingdom and be born among His people. And in that tiny infant ruler, born in the lowliest of villages you are granted the gift to live in peace and security. Why? Because not one of you is too little to be this important to God! AMEN.
1 Luther, M. (1999, c1975). Vol. 18: Luther’s works, vol. 18 : Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Mic 5:4). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.