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.
How could he know? How could he be so specific in his prophecy? How could he paint this picture of Jesus, so accurate that it should be one of the first pages in Jesus’ baby book? This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was, as my dad would say, “even a twinkle.” Micah prophesied from 737–696 BC, and yet he saw the fully painted picture of a Davidic restoration for the Jews…. a baby born in Bethlehem, when “she who is in labor has brought forth.” How could Micah know that the restoration of Israel would not happen with the sky opening up and a pronouncement from God, but a tiny baby just as human as you and me?
Micah’s prophecy was so accurate that it was handed down through the ages via Matthew 2:6:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.
Micah was waiting for the baby, just as we do every Advent. He was waiting for new life, new hope, and the restoration of what Israel had been instead of what it had become. The political circumstances in which he lived were no less precarious than ours. He railed against the beautification of Jerusalem because it was done through dishonest business practices that absolutely devastated the poor financially. He spoke honestly and plainly regarding the marketplace Jesus would later tear apart, saying that merchants and tax collectors were cheating the people they were supposed to serve. He even turned against his own people, oracles like him who, instead of giving away their counsel for free, took money for them… ironically cheapening their own gifts… because for Micah, the restoration of Israel would be the restoration of honest government, one that would not collapse under the weight of its own sins.
He did not use the image of an all-powerful ruler, but a simple shepherd feeding his flocks. It is a paradigm shift in terms of what we think of as a Savior. He would not be born to have power over, but power with. Micah knew that it would take more than one set of hands to make a government interested in keeping peace, but it needed a leader dedicated to moving others in that direction… not by force, but by example.
There is no better example of faith in a great leader than the mother who bore him. When the angel Gabriel came to her and said that she would bear a child that would do great things, she believed in her baby with all her heart. In the Gospel reading for today, we learn just how much:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Mary not only believed in her angel, she believed the baby pictures she read, given to her by the prophets of Israel that had been born long before her. She believed in her son’s ability to unite Israel and restore it to its former greatness, because like all the other Jews of her time, she would have read these prophecies and had no idea Micah was talking about her…. right up until Gabriel walked into her house.
She believed in her little shepherd, the one that would unite Israel not by his power, but by his kindness. It does not seem kind to overthrow rulers, but the Jews had been wrested from their homeland and treated poorly long enough. She believed in his power to stand up in the power of the people who gave him the authority to speak for them.
She believed in her baby, just like you believe in yours. Not only that, other people prophecy that your children will go on to do great things, just like Micah did for Jesus. Micah’s prophecies and Mary’s Magnificat are the hopes and dreams they have for this tiny baby boy.
How do we sing our songs of hope for our own next generations? Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) praised Mary by saying, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by God.”
What can we accomplish by raising our children with hope and expectation for their greatness? What wrongs will they be able to right knowing that their parents and their friends hold them in such high esteem? How will we sing our own songs of praise to our babies so that they grow up safe and secure in community love and care? How can we influence them with the light of Christ that flows through us?
A baby book records firsts. While we’re looking at first steps and first words, why not first great ideas? First challenges handled? First moments of gratitude and peace-making and integrating into the community around them? What would happen if we wrote down all the moments in which we saw the light of Christ in our children?
It is a passing down through the ages, from Micah to Mary to Matthew to us. If we, as Christians, are called to be Christ in the world, how do we know when we see it? And if we do, is it a cherished moment in the lives of our children? Is it something that will be remembered later on?
It will be if we write it down.