“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.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in theA strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth." Micah 5:2–4
The prophet Micah is one of the “minor prophets” - the prophets whose writings are relatively short and gathered together at the end of the Old Testament. Micah is best known for his injunction to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:6–8) and for this prophecy about the savior of Gods people coming from the small town of Bethlehem. In focusing on those two small snippets, however, the impact of Micah’s life and prophetic witness can be lost.
Micah saw tragedy upon tragedy in his lifetime. He saw the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians and the beginnings of the conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. His writings make clear the reason for these tragedies: Israel’s exploitation of the vulnerable people among them, which violated their covenant with God.
In the face of such tragedy, it would have been easy for Micah to become cynical about Israel’s future and doubtful about God’s goodness. But while the book of Micah is filled with judgment of Israel’s sin and warnings about the consequences – some of which came to pass in Micah’s lifetime – Micah always comes back to a resounding note of hope. There are immediate consequences for Israel’s sins, but in the long run, God will not forget the covenant he made with his people. God will be faithful and save them.
As Christmas draws near, we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem his people. We celebrate the coming of Jesus in an unexpected time and place, to save God’s people in a way they could never have imagined. And we celebrate that God’s plan included not just Israel, but the entire world. We celebrate that while our own lives include judgment and consequences for our sins, we can have confident hope that God will redeem us when we return to him. We can always lean on God’s promise, because even when we are unfaithful, God will be faithful to us and save us from our sin. That is cause for celebration!