Prepare the Way! (part III): Horizons
A sermon for Advent from Micah 4:1-8 & Mark 1:2-8
December 12, 2010 ~ Tom VanderPloeg
This is now the third Sunday of advent; so we are making our way to Christmas. The journey we have taken through Micah has been—shall I say—a bit harsh. Micah has been rather judgmental up to this point. But if you have been with us over the past two weeks, then maybe you’ve noticed that today’s passage takes a turn from where we have been. Micah is starting to head into a new direction.
So before we really get into today’s passage, it would do us well to take just a minute and remind ourselves of how the first three chapters of Micah lead up to this point in the story. We have been saying over the past two weeks that advent is about waiting and preparation. Micah has been reminding us that we cannot simply stroll into Christmas without a healthy dose of self-examination. Advent is meant for us to prepare our hearts for Jesus. And we have seen in John the Baptist how this preparation translates into a call to repentance. John has been reminding us that the best way we can prepare for Jesus during advent is to repent—or turn around—towards God.
As we now get into chapter four of Micah, let’s keep this in mind. Let’s remember all those things that Micah and John the Baptist have laid as a foundation for us to build upon. As I mentioned, Micah takes a new direction today. Both Micah and John the Baptist now begin to look ahead. They are pointing to a new horizon. All that they have said about repentance and turning to God is meant to focus our attention on the horizon for what is about to come next. We have come to the point in our advent journey where we now begin to look ahead.
The Switch in Tone
Let’s take a look at this passage and note with me then the ways that we see Micah moving in a new direction. The clues in the passages give us a good picture of exactly where Micah is going and what he is talking about in this section of his prophesy.
So—to follow along on your outline—the first thing we see is that in chapter four, Micah looks to the future. Now Micah turns his attention away from where Israel has been and the wrongs that they have done in the past, and he sets his focus over the horizon; he looks to the future. There are some key phrases in the passage that make this clear. Right away in verse one he says, “In the last days…” Micah is pointing ahead. And further down in verse six he again repeats, “In that day…” still talking about this upcoming event in the future.
And so what is it that Micah has to say about what is coming? What does this future look like? Well, just look at the contrast. Notice how different the picture is here in chapter four from what we just heard last week in chapter three. The first three chapters of Micah talk about the injustice taking place in Israel against the weakest and most defenseless people; he talks about the destruction of Jerusalem that is going to take place. See how chapter three ends? “Zion will be plowed like a field.” In other words, the place where the proud lift so high their own accomplishments will be completely leveled to the ground. That’s how chapter three ends; now look at just how dramatically chapter four switches gears. Right away in verse one; “the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills.” The same place that—just in the last chapter—was going to be completely leveled to the ground is now going to be the place that is raised higher than any other place. The place that—just in the last chapter—was built with injustice and bloodshed is now the place where all the powerless people will gather under the protection of the LORD’s righteousness.
In fact, the difference that takes place from chapter three to chapter four is so striking that it causes some Biblical scholars to ask whether Micah really wrote these words or if two completely different writings were pieced together. But I think it is obvious that Micah did—in fact—write these words and that he intentionally places such a dramatic contrast in front of his readers. He catches our attention. His message is rather simple: God is completely changing everything.
What Does Micah Look Forward to?
So again, what is it that Micah is looking forward to? I gave you some clues in your notes. Look at the key words scattered through this passage: “many nations, all people, every man…” This is crucial language for Israel to hear. All nations will come to the LORD. All nations will come to the LORD. You know, this really should not be a great surprise to Israel. Consider the original promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12. God made a covenant with Abraham that he would be blessed, and all people would be blessed through him. The intention of God’s blessing to his people is so that it may spill over to everyone. You get the picture form the first three chapters of Micah that just the opposite was happening, don’t you?
So here we see Micah pointing to that time when all nations will come to the LORD. All people will receive his blessing. In fact, let’s take the connection with Abraham in Genesis one step further. The promise of God’s blessing through Abraham to all people takes place in Genesis 12. Do you know what happens right before that in Genesis 11? It’s a story known as the tower of Babel. The people gather and decide to build a monument to their own greatness, and God comes down and scatters them. In Genesis 11 all people on earth are scattered from the high place they were building. Now look at what Micah is talking about in this passage today. God is establishing a new high place. And all those people who were scattered way back there in Genesis 11 are now all gathering back together. Micah envisions the complete reversal of Genesis 11. And this time it is God’s doing.
But there’s more here than all people coming to God. All nations will come to the LORD and there will be peace. There will be peace. The language that Micah uses to describe this is vivid. The people will take their weapons and turn them into farming tools. Or in other words, instead of people setting their agenda on destruction, they will cultivate. Instead of tearing down, they will develop and build up. And it is the gathering together under the LORD that will make this possible.
There is piece to this story that scatters itself throughout time. For instance we have already seen how this picture Micah describes stretches all that way back to Genesis 11 and envisions the reversal of what happened at Babel. Consider also how this picture in Micah four stretches forward. The subtitle of this message is about horizons. You know how it is when you look out and see the front range here to the west. You can see the foothills right in front of us. The hog-back range sticks up right across the valley. But then you see the next range of peaks beyond that rising higher, and beyond that there are now the mountains covered with snow rising up even higher. There are layers to the horizon. As the horizon stretches further away and becomes more distant, we see higher peaks coming up from behind the ones in front.
The picture we have here in Micah looks something like that. There are foothills. Micah is referring to a horizon that is very close—that in the very near future from the time of his writing Jerusalem would be destroyed and some time after that it would be rebuilt. God would preserve a remnant of his people during the exile to Babylon to return and establish the temple again.
But past that immediate range of foothills rises the next range of peaks. There are layers to the horizon of Micah’s words. There is meaning in these words that goes beyond what is on the immediate horizon. This is where Micah is already pointing the people to the Messiah. Micah becomes a prophet that tells of God’s plan of redemption. Micah gives us a horizon where Jesus shows up. God himself comes on the scene. We will see more details about that next week as we continue to move forward into chapter five. But that horizon is here in these words. God places a message of salvation in this prophesy that focuses our attention on Christmas. We have been considering over the past weeks how it is the prophets call us to prepare the way for Jesus. And here we see a glimpse of that horizon breaking through to see what God’s salvation will look like.
Now let’s also consider the horizon that stretches beyond that range of peaks we can see; because even further in the distance are peaks even higher. Micah provides a picture that goes beyond even what we see and know here today. There is a range on that horizon out there that is still beyond our vision. We cannot completely see everything in the distance. But Micah describes just a bit of what is coming. You se, God’s plan of redemption and restoration takes place in stages. There are layers to the horizon of God’s actions. Advent—according to Micah—is one piece of the puzzle; one layer of the horizon. As we prepare the way for Jesus this Christmas season let’s consider along with Micah the extent of God’s reach into human history. Advent is not just a time to remember Christ coming into this world. It is also a time to remember our place in that story. You and I take part in this. There is a layer to God’s horizon that includes all of us. Christ came to reclaim and redeem what was broken—and that includes all of us. The story goes back to Genesis where people are scattered and stray from God. The story is about God’s choosing Israel in the Old Testament. The story is about Jesus coming to live among us. The story is about God’s established church in the New Testament. And the story continues yet today. You see, we are not just remembering in advent something that happened. We are taking part in something that is happening. The story continues with us.
The calling of all nations includes us. The giving of peace to all people is a mandate that works its way into the world through us. And the story continues on to layers of the horizon beyond what we can see and beyond what we know.
God’s blessing—the Holy Spirit
There’s one more piece to this story. We haven’t said anything yet about John the Baptist and that other passage we looked at from Mark’s gospel. John says that the one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit. God comes and brings his very presence with him to be with us—his people. No more do people search and chase after God wondering where he may be found. God came and searched for us. He chases after us. He came for us. And the gift of his presence remains with us through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We are at a place on the horizon where God is with us. And we travel further into the horizon getting closer and closer to being the people that God created us to be.
Let me turn your attention to the outline one more time. All nations will come to the LORD and there will be peace…and all people will be blessed. All people will be blessed. Micah tells of the weak and powerless people being restored as the righteous before God. God’s salvation is not just for an elite bunch. It is not just for those who have all the answers or live a perfect life. God specifically came to seek out and call those who have been broken and trampled and beat down. And his redemption comes to raise them up. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 is to receive blessing so that all people may be blessed. This is a promise that continues with us today as well. We are blessed. We are blessed by the anointing baptism of the Holy Spirit given to the church.
Prepare the way! Prepare the way for advent by realizing today that we have a place in this story. Prepare the way for advent; behold the layers on the horizon—layers of God’s salvation plan; horizons that stretch from the beginning of time; horizons that saw Jesus come into this world; horizons that find us here today; horizons that beckon us closer to God in days to come.