You know, if NBC, CNN and Fox News had been around in 1809, all of their broadcasts would have originated from Austria. Now why Austria? Well, because that’s where things were really happening. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria like a hot knife through butter. Napoleon Bonaparte was making history and it was all happening in Austria.
But let’s think about the babies born in that same year. In 1809, people like Charles Darwin, Felix Mendelssohn, Edgar Allen Poe were born. Oh, and in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, which was owned by an illiterate and nomadic farmer … in the year 1809 one could hear the infant cries of a newborn baby named … Abraham Lincoln.
What appeared to be super-significant with Napoleon ended up being no more important than a Sunday afternoon yawn. Today, only a handful of historians can name Napoleon’s 1809 victories in Austria, whereas, most people have heard of Darwin, Mendelssohn, Poe, and ole Honest Abe Lincoln.
But let’s go back eighteen centuries before 1809. As the whole world was watching Rome in all its splendor, who cared or even noticed the birth of a baby? Bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on east by the Euphrates River, on the north by the Rhine and Danube Rivers, and on the south by the Sahara Desert … the Roman Empire was as vast as it was vicious. All eyes were on the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus who had decided to raise everyone’s taxes. Who was interested in babies and bottles, cradles and cribs? Augustus was, thus why he issued the census to have everyone counted. Caesar Augustus was making history and it was all happening in Rome.
But was it really? While all eyes were focused on Roman military mighty and political muscle … the ancient prophecy of Micah was being fulfilled. God arrived. God arrived in silence, on straw, in a stable, under a star … and people missed it!
Micah writes one of the most stunning prophecies in the Old Testament. Micah 5:2a says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah.” It’s no wonder that Philipps Brooks’ Christmas hymn we sung earlier begins with the words, “O little town of Bethlehem.” Even though Bethlehem was King David’s hometown, at the time of Christ’s birth, the little backwater bungalow had a whopping population of about 200 people.
“Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (5:2b). The predicted “Ruler over Israel”, the King from the house and lineage of David, will come “from of old, from ancient times.” Did you catch that? The Ruler had a history before he even arrived in history? The Ruler’s existence stretches back into eternity? The Ruler was planned before the creation of the world? Yes, yes, and … yes.
This is Micah’s point. This Ruler, Jesus, is one with the eternal God. We just confessed in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” You see, Jesus isn’t just a junior partner with God. Jesus isn’t the vice president of the universe. Jesus is 100%, fully, actually, really God! He will come “from of old, from ancient times.”
A new person didn’t come into existence when Jesus was conceived and born. Instead the second person of the Trinity took on flesh, this what incarnate means. God took upon himself a body. God slept, He burped and cried. God became hungry, thirsty and tired. God felt disappointment, sorrow, hurt, and loneliness.
Jesus didn’t change into flesh. Jesus didn’t morph into flesh. Jesus didn’t transition into flesh. If Jesus changed, morphed, or transitioned into flesh, then he would no longer be God. But remaining what he was, he became what we are. That’s it! Remaining what he was … God. Jesus became what we are … flesh. Flesh just like us.
Sorry Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, but Christmas means so much more than sugar plum fairies, old St. Nick, Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Christmas means God now has flesh, just like us.
Because of this, Jesus understands when our bodies hurt and our heart breaks. Jesus understands when our world caves in. Jesus gets it when people ignore us, dismiss us, and reject us. Jesus can relate with our despair when we cry out, “It’s too late to do anything with this train wreck called my life.” Remaining what he was … God. Jesus became what we are … flesh. Flesh just like us.
Think about it, really think about it! This is absolutely stunning. When Mary touches her baby, she touches the hands that created the universe. When she hears his voice, she hears the voice that thundered, “Let there be light!” When she looks into her baby’s eyes, she is looking at the eyes that are all-seeing and all-knowing.
The world was reeling from Alexander the Great, Herod the Great and Augustus the Great … and the Great God became flesh just like us. And people missed it!
You know, the Bible has a word for that. That word … that word is sin. Sin makes us blind to the wonder, the majesty, the kindness and the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Your sin, my sin, our sin … that’s what led Jesus to stand before Pontus Pilate. Pilate has the Savior’s flesh ripped, torn, shredded, dressed in purple and crowned with thrones. Then Pilate brings Jesus out before the crowd and says, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). “Behold the man!”
Here is the man. Flesh. Flesh and blood. Flesh and blood and a beaten body. That’s also God we’re talking about. The God who gets crucified. The God who bleed. The God who dies. The God who is buried. End of story? No way! Micah is not done!
“He will stand, remember, Jesus as laid in a tomb, but now he stands! And shepherd his flock in the 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 5:4). Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we have this promise … “they will live securely.”
Isn’t that finally all we really want? Isn’t that what we spend our lives trying to achieve? Isn’t that why we invest money? Go to work? Watch what we eat, endlessly exercise and triple lock all our doors? We just want to be secure … secure in life and in death.
“No one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28b). Jesus said that. “For I am convinced that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37,39). St. Paul said that. “Safe and secure from all alarms!” Those are words from the gospel hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”
Art Holst used to referee NFL games. He tells a story about a game when Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Fred Arbanas was tackled so hard that his artificial eye popped out. After a search, the missing eye was found. Arbanas popped it back into place, declined the coach’s offer to send in a substitute, and was eager to resume play. Art Holst, the referee, playfully said to Arbanas, “Fred, I’m impressed. But what if you had lost the other eye?” Arbanas snap back, “That’s easy. I’d become a referee!” Referees aren’t the only ones who are blind … So are we.
Micah invites us tonight to open wide our eyes, open wide our hearts, and see Jesus. Jesus, born in the little town of Bethlehem. Jesus, who is of the house and lineage of David. Jesus, God in the flesh, who comes forth from of old, from ancient days. Jesus, standing and shepherding his flock so we can be safe and secure from all alarms … in life and death.
Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. Don’t miss it. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.