You Bethlehem

Fourth Sunday of Advent


Micah 5:2-5a

Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times

I want to start with this passage from Micah for several reasons. The Jewish Study Bible adds this commentary to the verse; The reference is to David. They go on to add comments by rabbis such as: Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him… because of the birth pangs of the Messiah.

We Christians like to make the Christmas story neat, clean, tidy, and peaceful. That is not the Biblical story. The title, Ephrathah, refers to the clan. The clan equals the military unit called the Thousands. Each clan had the title of Thousands no matter how many members there were in it. In combat, the commander had to know the actual size of each clan. He would not want 200 men trying to defeat 20,000.

This one word, Ephrathah, reminds us that war is promised when the Messiah arrives. It is at its core the war between God and non-god; good and evil. That which is not of God is evil. The reality is that we have almost nothing to do with that war; it is carried out by God and his army against Satan/Lucifer/the Lier and his army. Like civilians in any war, we are caught up in it and suffer as a result.

In WWII, for example, an average of about 17,000 US workers died each year in just the war-related industries. Add to that 6,000 coal miners, 1,000 farmers, and others supporting the war in other ways and the home front was plenty dangerous. It was not until 1944 that the military deaths passed the civilian numbers.

Notice that the promise is for one who will be ruler over Israel. That clearly refers to David. We Christians must piece together several Scriptural promises to read Jesus as the ruler of this verse in Micah.

But that is the way of prophecy. Micah and the hundreds of other prophets (most lost to history) spoke to the conditions of a specific time and place. It is through the Wisdom of God that such words can be just as important centuries later. Micah did not know that the promised one would be David and he certainly had no idea that David would simply prepare the way for the Greater David—Yeshua, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, The Servant of God, The Good Shepherd, The Divine Physician, Savior, Prophet, King, The Stone, The Bridegroom, The Bread of Life, The Light of the World, The Door, The Vine, The Way, The Truth, and The Life, The Judge, The Lamb, The Scapegoat, The Mediator, The High Priest, The Chosen, The Just One, The Amen, the Alpha and the Omega, The Head, The Image of God, The Firstborn of all Creation, The Bright Morning Star, Lord, The Word. {Thanks to William Barclay}

Notice also the phrase, small among the clans. God loves to do his work with as little as possible. He does not need an army of millions to defeat The Lier, only the Truth. He does not need a pharaoh to build a pyramid, only His Son to build a home in our hearts. He does not need to defeat Death with a sneak attack by special forces; He only needs his son to die and enter Hell through the front door.

Christmas is a time to remember the cost to God. For a short season, the Son of God gave up that status and became a helpless human baby. He figured out how to live a life of about 33 years without knowing everything but trusting that God would tell him when he needed something. He did what God has asked each of us to do in our own lives—trust God.

Here are the readings for Monday and Tuesday—Christmas.

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96
Isaiah 62:6-12
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:(1-7)8-20
Psalm 97
Isaiah 52:7-10
Hebrews 1:1-4,(5-12)
John 1:1-14
Psalm 98

May Christ be with you this Christmas.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Speaking the Language of God

Third Sunday of Advent


Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

In chapters 13-23, Isaiah announces God’s intentions to the peoples surrounding Israel. The reading for Tuesday the 11th is interesting for its difference. In that day, there shall be several towns in the land of Egypt speaking the language of Canaan [i.e., Hebrew] and swearing loyalty to the Lord of Hosts; one shall be called Town of Heres [destruction]JSB That last line is rendered in several translations as City of the Sun because many old manuscripts have that word.

Even as God’s chosen people are being hauled away by conquerors, God promised that Egypt and Assyria will be speaking Hebrew as friends, and as friends with the whole world.

In today’s reading, Zephaniah speaks of the final salvation of the chosen people. But notice we find this message in the last seven verses in the small book. Reading the preceding 46 verses gives us a picture of a world ready for destruction, and this message was delivered to Josiah, one of the few good kings in Judah (there were none in Israel). Somehow, God will turn the world around.

The reading in Malachi last Thursday gives us a final victory, but not without pain. No; I, Yahweh, do not change; and you have not ceased to be children of Jacob! Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have evaded my statutes and not observed them. Return to me and I will return to you, says Yahweh SabaothNJB It is well to note that Malachi gave those words to the people after the return from Babylon.

Today’s reading in Luke nearly copies Malachi. John the Baptizer spoke bluntly: return to God. If you have done so, then there are actions you will want to take. The man who has two shirts must share with the man who has none, and the man who has food must do the samePhillips John went on in response to the tax collectors and soldiers: You must not demand more than you are entitled to. Don’t bully people, don’t bring false charges, and be content with your payPhillips

Looking back at my own life as a public school teacher (high school) I can see times when I failed to be content with my pay—every other day—and my discipline in the classroom sometimes descended into bullying. I will not claim to be free of handing out false charges, but I tried to stay clean on that count. John would not be happy with me. I’ll find out about God later.

One reading for next Wednesday comes from Luke 7:18-30. John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the promised Messiah. Jesus’ answer? Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poorNIV

The reading from Isaiah for the same Wednesday; 35:3-7. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy; for water will gush in the desert and streams in the wastelands, the parched ground will become a marsh and the thirsty land springs of water; the lairs where the jackals used to live will become plots of reed and papyrusNJB You might think Jesus knew his Bible, or Tanakh in his case.

Peter gets the last word from next Tuesday’s reading; So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the othersMSG


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence