But you, O [Rock Spring] of [Walker County], who are one of the little [communities] of [Georgia], from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in [My People], 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. 4 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; 5 and he shall be the one of peace. [Micah 5:2-5a modified for RSUMC]
What if this were the word given to us, instead of the little town of Bethlehem? Prophetic words I have heard in 34 years of ministry:
There are about to build a second regional airport in Northwest Georgia and it will transform the state and every little town around it. (First DS shared the news: Still no airport, for good or bad).
Stand, Refine, Do, Now, Welcome: on the edge and eve of Arrived!
Our Advent Adventure has started by with the first steps of
- taking a stand, responding to the call to get up and get moving.
- We have refined our faith and tools and claimed God’s call upon us to continue the momentum and DO what is good and right,
- We have been encouraged with hope and called to share hope and
- Today we remember to welcome those we meet to help them find Christ through together.
One of the annual tradition that I grew up with at Christmas was my mother’s annual open house party. I believe that it is for this reason that I have struggled to see the joy in the parties because I know all the work and preparation that goes on before, during and after a big event.
Mom started with the decoration over Thanksgiving and by mid-December, the menus and Christmas card/Invitations would be sent out. The ten to fourteen days before Christmas would include a long checklist of grocery shopping, baking and cleaning around the house. The Sunday afternoon before Christmas was the target party date. I preferred the years where Christmas Day fell on Saturday or Sunday as the party would be far behind come Christmas morning.
A dozen varieties of cookies would need to be baked, iced and decorated. Cakes, pies and hor doves would be prepared and ready for baking and heating. Serving plates and cups would be washed and dried. We had little time for playing in anticipation of the open house!
My brother, being younger, had the job of playing with all the children who came to the party so they would not be “trampled under foot” momma would say. But the truth was she didn’t want them to play with the two hundred nativity / manger scenes that decorated every shelf, side table and flat service in the house. My job was to make sure the table was full of food and that the dirty dishes and cups would get washed and returned to the big table. (I didn’t mind the chocolate covered peanut butter balls and the cheese biscuits, but I didn’t want to be washing dishes when the others were playing in the yard) I made a promise that year, “I would not make my future children wash dishes at any open house parties I might have down the road. Christmas was a time to welcome not wash.”
The work made it hard for me to see the joy. I know my mother’s intention was that the collective labors we give to neighbors, friends, members, and strangers in an effort to welcome in Jesus’s name.
What does it take to welcome someone in Christ?
One year while we were living in Eatonton, Georgia, mom had decorated the hall bathroom downstairs with fancy soaps and special towels and hermetically sealed the door closed with a large note on the outside of the door, which read: “Keep your nasty hands off the towels!!”
We were afraid to go in and she forgot to take the sign down. I don’t think anyone at the party went inside. But the did go upstairs to our bathrooms!
How will you and I continue to welcome others in Christ?
It is a life lesson that making others feel welcome is a self-less gift at times. Some people are difficult to include. Some people share little in common. Some people work as hard to avoid as we do to invite.
The world is hungry and doesn’t think it is for dinners and snacks.
The world is hungering for three things:
Being on the Correct side of things: Greatness in the sense of truth
Meaning – Strength and Majesty
Peace – Security and Peace
These are actually the things that are promised by the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be God’s People.
The prophetic call to look for Greatness even when it comes through a small town, God is working GREATNESS in small ways, not larger than life folks, but ordinary folks like us are where the GREATNESS is where we are to look for God to show up.
The Messiah we share is one who welcomes in strength and majesty. Jesus is the very one who welcomes us while we are yet sinners. Jesus is stronger than any of us. And he greats us as sons and daughters, co-heirs
Micah foretells that God is Great, Majestic and Strong, brings security and, offers peace.
The three things that world longs for can be found in the Messiah, in Jesus.
The trillion dollar question is: How do people find what they are looking for in the Christ we are sharing?
.. We need to be taking that STAND for Christ ourselves
.. We need to be refined our understanding and trust to in Christ
.. We need to be doing the things of Christ that reveal his strength, majesty, peace, and greatness.
So what does that look like for us?
The passage from Micah serves as a preview of the nativity story. Bethlehem and Mary are the recipients of coming Lord, and as the people of Israel and Elizabeth, we are to open the door and welcome the God who has decided to set up tent in the midst of our neighborhood and who is more fascinated with each one of us than with a throne surrounded with angels and archangels (Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:6-8), facing all the risks and passions of all human beings.
Most likely a Judean prophet during the eighth-century before Christ, Micah was responsible for delivering the divine oracle to God’s covenant people. We are told that “the prophecy about a new ruler to come from the town of Bethlehem (5:2), and the response to the question of what the Lord requires of them, signal Micah’s importance.”
By December 23, our nation will have experienced midterm elections. Hopefully, the people newly elected or reelected will have the integrity to follow through on their promises. Hopefully, their promises will be in harmony with God’s concern for the “least of these.” The sermon for this entire Advent season and in particular for this fourth Sunday of Advent serves as a way to acknowledge and warmly welcome those who visit our church, those we meet in our paths, those who are thirsting for love, fellowship, help, and counsel.
The text can encourage people to serve as volunteers serving hot meals, visiting nursing homes, setting up a caroling church group. The sermon can raise open questions that invite people to find their answers after the worship service is over, or posit a list of possibilities by which people can incarnate the message of welcoming. This may mean hospitality among their own circle of friends and acquaintances, but especially beyond.
A part of our Wesleyan DNA is the ministry for and with the poor. Just as Advent leads us toward encountering the infant Christ in a stable and with the announcement of the Good News being first shared with lowly shepherds, so we are invited to become more mindful and aware of ministries with and for the excluded.
For personal reflection and sermon preparation:
- How do I and my congregation welcome Jesus into our area of greatest weakness, brokenness, or loss?
- 2. Do I leap for joy when I spend time in Scripture, worship, and fellowship with God’s covenant people?
- 3. How can I inspire parishioners to make the poor and the oppressed the center of their Christian concern and witness?
- 4. At some point in the sermon, pose an inductive question, such as “Who am I in this text? Am I Micah, the carrier of good news? Am I Mary who is welcomed by her family? Am I the leaping child in Elizabeth’s womb, excited about the presence and coming of Christ?”
- 5. Is this congregation a fellowship of excitement, an Advent community with a contagious faith and neighborhood involvement?
- 6. How can I set the tone through preaching for a greater passion for justice?