Prepare the Way! (part IV): The Rest of the Story
A Sermon for Advent from Micah 5:1-5 & Matthew 3:13-15
©December 19, 2010 ~ Tom VanderPloeg
Maybe you remember who Paul Harvey is. If you are younger then chances are you have never even heard of Paul Harvey. He was a radio broadcaster who reported news on syndicated radio for many, many years. But besides reporting the news each day, Paul Harvey also told stories. He would take a famous person from American history and tell the story of his or her life before they were famous—but he wouldn’t tell us the name. And by the time he got to the end of his biographical piece—and it would by then become somewhat obvious whom he was talking about—Paul Harvey would give the name of the person and then he would always say…and now you know the rest of the story.
This week we get to a place in our journey through Micah where we start to see glimpses of Jesus coming long before the story ever takes place. Or maybe I should say that just a bit differently; the story that we know, the story we see children perform in Christmas programs gives us the main action…we see the main event; but there’s more…it’s not the rest of the story.
Long before there was ever a census in the Roman Empire—in fact, long before there was even a Roman Empire at all—there was a plan. God knew that there would be a savior—he himself would be the savior. But this plan is no Disney fairytale. This plan of God we see in scripture and watch children act out at Christmastime—this is no picnic. It might look all cute and adorable when kids play the parts. But in real life, God’s plan is earthy, it’s human, it comes to an ordinary world going about life in ordinary ways.
You see, the Jewish people living during the time of the Roman Empire carried the everyday inconveniences of being an occupied land. They were ruled by a foreign power, and their everyday activities had to adjust to what that meant—to how they were functioned—to rules they had to follow. There may not have been anything extraordinary about the Roman census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It was everyday life filled with all the hassles and anxieties that a busy life in a messed up world can bring. But we know there’s something else going on. And we dramatize it, we glorify it, we idealize it. But underneath it all is a world full of people going about their business.
Sure, there were the select few that we know about who saw something special. There were those shepherds who heard the announcement from the angels. There were those kings—magi—who came from a far away land. But really—most of the world went on functioning as normal that day.
A normal world for us is a world that has its ups and downs. We have our highs and lows. We watch the news or read the paper and are reminded of horrible tragedies and extraordinary accomplishments. We mourn losses and deal with setbacks. But we also cherish close relationships and take joy in reaching our own accomplishments. Its normal, its everyday life.
This is the world into which God comes. It’s earthy, it’s real, it’s human. It’s no Disney fairytale. The grand announcements are for a very select few. But for most of us, life has its normal rhythms and patterns. We go on about our business. And this is the world God comes to. This is the world God inhabits.
Look at how Micah reminds us of this today in chapter five. “Bethlehem, though you are small…” Bethlehem, the normal town with normal people doing normal things. Coming out from the ordinary, there is something greater. From the places where we would least expect to find it, comes exactly what we all need. Micah says, “He will be their peace.” Micah’s world needed a heavy dose of peace. The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the Assyrians and things were not looking too good for the remnant of Judah that was left in the land. So where is the answer going to come from? Everybody is looking to the capital city—they are looking to Jerusalem. They are leaning all their hopes on their “Washington DC.” But the answer does not come from the capitol. It does not come from headquarters. It does not come from Jerusalem. It does not come from Washington. The answer comes from Pella Iowa; Ogalalla Nebraska. It comes from normal-town USA. It comes from Bethlehem. God comes where we least expect to see him. He comes to our world. He comes to you and to me.
This has always been the pattern. This has always been God’s plan. On the outline you have, you see the rows of little people…they kind of look like Fischer Price Little People. The copy is kind of small and the names are hard to read, so let me help fill in the details. The first name on the top-left is Abraham. This is where God began his promise to the people of Israel. The last name on the lower-right is Jesus. This is the ultimate fulfillment of that promise made to Abraham. And in the middle you see that section on your outline where three people have a box around them. Those are Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah—the three kings of Judah that lived during the time of Micah.
God began with Abraham, an ordinary man from an ordinary town. Down the line we see God used ordinary people. In that second row you have people like Ruth, and the small shepherd boy—David—who would grow to become a great king. And in that third row where the box is located we have the time of Micah where the words we read today come from—words declaring an ordinary town would again come into the spotlight. And on down the line we go till we get to Jesus.
And in the story of Jesus we saw today from Matthew we see Jesus insisting that he be baptized. John refuses because he thinks Jesus is too great for him to baptize. But Jesus maintains at that moment, he must enter into the ordinary everyday existence that we all experience. It’s earthy, it’s human, it’s real. But at the same time, there’s a glimpse of something much greater going on, isn’t there? Because we also see that moment when God is revealed. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come together in a perfect moment reminding us that in the plain everyday ordinary rhythms of life, God comes and does extraordinary things. And he is our peace.