After five months of devastating war in Europe, chivalry between enemies showed itself for one of the last times in modern warfare. Perhaps a little before, on the holy night, and into that hallowed Christmas morn, the sounds of rifles firing, shells exploding, and men dying faded on the Western Front during World War I. Starting on Christmas Eve, 1914, many German and British troops began to sing Christmas carols to each other across the lines. At dawn on Christmas Day some German soldiers even ventured, unarmed, across “no-man’s land”, toward the Allied lines – shouting “Merry Christmas” in the enemy tongue. Then enemies climbed tentatively out of the trenches and met on the field of battle to shake hands and share cigarettes and plum pudding. In one place a soccer match even broke out.
It’s called the Christmas Truce. And it was peace in the middle of warfare. German Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch recalled: “How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was…Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.” And how true! Only for a time… The warring countries never declared any official cease-fire. And Christmas in the Trenches only happened in a few places, actually. By December 26, it was shells and bombs, gunfire and death all over again – again and again for three and a half more years.
It’s easy to cherry-pick it from something like the Great War – so called for the magnitude of battle and death. But it’s essentially true: in this world there is no lasting peace. There is no generic, unqualified rest. We stop doing only for a time or we sleep for a few hours and we recover from one tragedy only to prepare for the next terrible thing and we’re in peacetime until war breaks out again. There is no peace – in the unqualified, absolute sense. Except in one place…
Micah’s prophecy for this morning is eminently familiar among the Christmas words we have. Less familiar, probably, is the tension into which Micah had been speaking those words. He spoke to Israel’s so-called “peace”. The worst of things had been staved off – no regional war. Under kings like Jotham and Ahaz and Hezekiah, enemies like Assyria were far away and prosperity abounded for many. Micah was called to make bold prophecy and proclamation against God’s people who had become spiritually complacent in the midst of this political and economic “good time.” He proclaimed that worse times were coming. When foreign generals would smack Israel’s king in the face and put their city to siege. When people would be transported to distant lands; exiled from home. When Israel would be “pregnant” with expectation, longing for her sons to come out, come back (4:9-10).
Micah’s prophecy basically said Israel’s “peace” wasn’t real. In fact, underneath it all was a telling insignificance. I think you can see it at the end of v.2. Why should Micah say one will come who started in “ancient times”? Because that’s what Israel actually longed for. They wanted the “good ol’ days”. Israel longed for things hundreds of years before: King David’s mighty armies and renown and King Solomon’s wise and powerful rule and expansive territory. Micah knew Israel was after power and prestige, comfort and peace like in the good ol’ days. And that longing would only increase as things got worse…
Do you feel the same? You might feel so for America – our nation – decades prior were better, former times were more stable, morality used to be higher… Or in your own lives? This or that decade was really great? When the one job was great and money was good and there was time with kids or so and so was still alive? When you had to do less adulting? When your knees didn’t creak and your back wasn’t bent? Dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones you used to know? We know this. We long for, we hold high the days gone by, the ancient years – when men were men and whatever other mildly absurd characterizations we might put on our dreamy recollections. And sometimes we dream like this even when things are okay. Just like Israel. But really, it’s just putting a patch over the holes in our peace, isn’t it? Patching on some other dream that actually wasn’t that great and was made of and by the same failing people? Dreams of decades so awesome that they produced these ones so dismal? Perhaps they weren’t the stuff of real peace…
That’s Micah’s point. He proclaims the only place to truly find peace. The last words of our text are these: “he will be our peace”. Without qualification, not just for a time, absolutely and forever. But who is he? As if tailormade for our insignificant feelings, he is one who is not ruined by “insignificance”; he comes from it. Micah prophesied that one will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah. He used that name so people in Micah’s day would say, “Oh wait, you mean the little town, Bethlehem? The one that’s so small it’s not even a clan family seat?” Yes – from the smallest, most insignificant he will come. But who is he? One of great significance himself. A ruler…”whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” As if tailormade for Israel’s dreams under her current milquetoast kings, for the good ol’ days, then here one will come from where King David did come – promised from Bethlehem – “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is 11:1), but from even more ancient days, one who would crush the serpents’ head, and have his heel struck in death (Ge 3:15), prophesied on the grass of the first garden; and still, one more ancient than time, one “chosen before the creation of the world” so that our faith and hope might be in God and not anyone else (1 Pe 1:20). To do that, he will be different. A ruler – not a king – not one who will do like Saul and David did and be Israel’s “in place of God” peacemaker. No, this one will rule with due subordination. God says, “[he] will come for me” – he will rule for God, as in, for what God decrees and loves, by what God says.
Take it from Micah – this is one from out of our insignificance but great according to God’s ancient promises. They’re fulfilled in Luke and John, those made by Isaiah. Or from Matthew: this one would “fulfill all righteousness” – rule for God, according to God’s will, not ours or his own. God’s will – that is, salvation. He would come when Israel was under foreign rule and pregnant with expectation – the one announced to a lowly virgin that she would be in labor and give birth to a son… Whois such a one? It’s Jesus. He is our peace. That’s whom Micah proclaims. The only one from outside all of our own making or expectation who secures real significance for our insignificance whatever it is. Real significance by being of God’s promise and not our dream. Real significance by being for God’s will, which is our salvation – and actual peace – rest and rescue from sins, from death, for life, for good.
That’s really what we’re after – peace for good – right? I mean, in this life, you look for things that last. I’m going to buy a generator after the last power outage. I’m not going online to Alibaba.com to find the cheapest 8K watt generator from China. No, I want a warranty and a promise that that puppy will light up when I want to, in the dark, when I need it, without a thought… We want something assured, something warranted, and something that lasts. For good.
Really, peace is something secured – gotten, made, accomplished, assured. How tempting for us to find that security somewhere here. We might look to our strength – what we can get done. To places that have supplied well in the past – expect they will again. Find political parties that will answer our needs – vote them in. Follow people of great intelligence or power or prestige – rely on their ways. And count on those people and things to consistently produce… And we’re tempted to look “for me” – what feels best for me, what’s worked best for me, what produces the best for me.
In that spirit, one of the commentators on this Micah section thinks that verses 5 and on are an Israelite war song – switches into 1st person plural – sort of like, “We will, we will rock you…” You know, the kind of thing you’d sing before heading into battle to get the spirits up? The kind of thing we’d chant in a gym to press on to the win? “If Assyria comes a’knockin’, and he tramples all our forts, then we’ll rise up strong and mighty, and we’ll kick him in the shorts!” That’s pretty terrible, eh? Though we seek out little anthems for ourselves – slogans to charge us up: “Make America Great Again!” whether you like it from Reagan or Trump, “Change You Can Believe In”, “Build Back Better”, or “A Time for Greatness”. There are things we cry to light a fire and kindle a spirit. One might argue that Micah’s saying what a silly thing that is – a battle cry for Israel, a rousing shout for strength from kings, a new hope in this nation or that man – because all those are “from here” and they’re “of sin”. As Korah’s sons said in the psalm – it’s all folly: trust in human plans that most often fail, trust in princes that can’t always win, trust in ideas that pass and get replaced. Foolishness all of it, except and unless Jesus Is Our Peace.
You want to dwell securely? Do we wish to have peace? God prescribes it through this one who shepherds us like no human leader – carries us in his arms close to his heart and gently leads us (Is 40:11). It will only come through the one who brings the strength of the Lord – not missiles, not votes, not physical might, not armies… As our 2nd reading said, he doesn’t even bring the stuff we might consider holy and cool – sacrifices and burnt offerings. No, here’s real strength: he says, “I have come to do [God’s] will…And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (He 10-9-10) There’s power: a righteous life before God. And because he lived that kind of life, he stands in the “majesty of the name of the Lord his God”. He fully represents, comes with all the authority of God himself – the authorization to make his work our work and his life our life so that we might live securely – his name over us all by faith.
In this Advent season, God calls us like this to humility and repentance again and again. He calls us away from trusting in human powers, in princes, in nations, in treaties, in this world’s peace and our own ways – to know that there lies insignificance and humiliation. Instead, he shows us his promised one again and again so that in him we might find fulfillment and security. With Mary, cry out praise over God’s might and mercy for you and me – for his will is our salvation – and it has been done in this one. Clap your hands and sing with the psalm that God has shown favor to us so that righteousness, faithfulness, and love meet wherever we are. Speak what’s true, the reality, with the writer of Hebrews – in this Jesus, we have been made holy. And with Micah, don’t worry over your insignificance for one has come who has secured greatness for you. Know that, essentially, unequivocally, absolutely and forever, Jesus Is Our Peace.