Who is Jesus? The Ruler

Pastor Kim Gilliland
December 19, 2021 Advent 4
SCRIPTURE: Micah 5: 2-5a
Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep, this ruler will lead and care for his people by the power and glorious name of the LORD his God. His people will live securely, and the whole earth will know his true greatness, because he will bring peace.
Micah 5: 4-5a (CEV)

TENSIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In just ten days of so, tens of thousands of Christians will make the journey to Bethlehem in order that they may be at the place of Jesus’ birth more than 2,000 years ago. A basilica, the Church of the Nativity, was built in 327 A.D. over the cave where Jesus was thought to have been born – stables as we know them now weren’t actually a thing when Jesus was born. It was more common to keep the animals either in a nearby cave of right in the house with the family. Nonetheless, the Church of the Nativity is the oldest continually used church structure on the face of the earth. Every year pilgrims make their way there to celebrate the Nativity. It is one of the holiest shrines in the Israel.

Throughout the lives of most of those sitting here today, the Holy Land has been a place of turmoil. Ever since Israel was established in 1948, there have been conflicts and fighting. Some of the nations that surround Israel are committed to its destruction. They’ve tried a number of times. The day after Israel was declared a nation in 1948, it was attacked but survived against all odds. Again, in 1967, the Arab nations planned an attack but Israeli intelligence uncovered the plot. The result was the Six Day War in which superior Israeli air power destroyed the Arab attack before it could get off the ground. Other wars have been fought.

Internally, the Palestinians and the Jews are in almost constant conflict. Palestinian rockets are routinely launched into populated areas of Israel. The Israeli Armed Forces has to respond, sometimes with overly harsh measures.

And throughout the world there is debate about whose to blame. There is a strong antisemitic movement in the world that supports the Palestinian cause no matter what Hezbollah does. Israel says that it is just trying to protect itself from its neighbours who are dedicated to its destruction. Who’s to blame? I really don’t know but my hunch is that there is lots of blame to go around. It’s a land of turmoil and strive.

LEADERSHIP

It may not be very clear who’s to blame and therefore how to get past the violence. But one thing is clear. Things haven’t changed much in Israel in the past 2,700 years. When the prophet Micah wrote somewhere in the eighth century before the birth of Jesus, the Holy Land was also in the midst of turmoil. Assyria was the dominant empire in those days. Most of the nations of the Middle East were under its control, paying annual tribute to it in order to avoid its wrath. God’s Chosen People were divided into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon in 931 B.C. Judah was in the south, its capital being Jerusalem. The northern kingdom was actually called Israel with its capital at Samaria.

Both kingdoms were vassal states of Assyria. But there were also other internal problems. Both kingdoms had once again fallen away from God. Both were worshiping the false gods and idols of their neighbours. Both were oppressing the poor and misusing power. God was not pleased.

Into this context Micah prophecies about the coming Messiah. writes in Micah 4:2-5a (NIV):

Bethlehem Ephrath, you are one of the smallest towns in the nation of Judah.

But the Lord will choose one of your people to rule the nation—

someone whose family goes back to ancient times.

The Lord will abandon Israel only until this ruler is born,

and the rest of his family returns to Israel.

Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep,

this ruler will lead and care for his people

by the power and glorious name of the Lord his God.

His people will live securely, and the whole earth will know his true greatness,

because he will bring peace.

What this passage provides for us is another image of what the Messiah will be. Here, he is called the Ruler. The reference to the Ruler appears three times in these verses. Verse two says that out of the tribe of Judah and the town of Bethlehem, God will choose someone to rule the nation. Verse three refers to the time when this Ruler will be born. And verse four speaks of how this Ruler will lead and care for his people.

Why the Ruler? Because the only way to lead the people back to faithfulness is through a strong ruler. That’s what it takes. The Messiah cannot be a weak kneed vassal. He cannot be a wishy-washy chameleon who would change on a whim to keep everyone happy. Unlike so many politicians, this Ruler will not govern by opinion polls but will set a clear agenda and develop a plan to achieve the desired results.

When we look at strong leaders, isn’t that what we see? We see people with a clear purpose and objective. Who are those people? When I look at the past, we see shining examples: England’s Winston Churchill, South African’s Nelson Mandela, and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. In Canada, I can think of some strong leaders in my lifetime; Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Stephen Harper comes to mind. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with their politics and policies. All I’m saying is that, whether we agree with them or not, they were all strong leaders and each of them changed the course of their nation. They had vision. They had purpose. And they had the ability to influence people in such a way that their objectives were achieved.

This is what Micah said the Messiah will be like. This is the vision of what the Messiah will bring to the people and to the world. This is how the Messiah will lead the people back to faithfulness.

LIKE A SHEPHERD

But here’s the rub. Not all strong leaders are good leaders. Think of people like Germany’s Adolph Hitler, China’s Mao Zedung and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. This list could go on and on. These tyrants slaughtered millions of people in their quest for power and wealth.

That is not the kind of ruler the Messiah will be. In Micah 5:4 (NIV) describes a very different ruler. It says, “Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep, this ruler will lead and care for his people.” The Messiah will not be a dictator. He will be like a shepherd.

What’s the difference? A dictator’s first concern is for himself and his objectives. He wants to achieve his goals regardless of how they affect anyone else. A dictator wants the power and prestige. He wants the wealth and the privilege. How it affects anyone else is not his or her concern.

Is that what a shepherd is like? No. What does the shepherd do? The shepherd’s takes care of the sheep. That is his first concern. It’s not about him. It’s not about his power, his prestige, his wealth and his privilege. It’s all about the people. It’s all about them and what they need. It’s like that old Christmas carol:

Good King Wencelas last looked out

          on the feast of Stephen

when the snow lay round about

          deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night

          though the frost was cruel

when a poor man came in sight

          gathering winter fuel.

I’m sure you recognize the first verse of Good King Wencelas. Although it has remained popular since it was first published in 1853, did you realize that the carol says virtually nothing about Christmas? In fact, the only direct reference to Christmas is that good King Wencelas last looked out on the feast of Stephen. The feast of Saint Stephen just happens to fall on December 26, which is the day after Christmas. That’s it. So why is this song considered to be a Christmas carol?

It’s a Christmas carol because it is a ballad about a man who exhibited in life all of the qualities of a godly ruler and by extension, became a caricature of the Messiah. Here’s a bit of background. The song is actually based on the life of a real man, Wenceslaus I, the Duke of Bohemia who lived from 907 A.D. to 935 A.D. He was known as a man of great piety and charity, always looking after his subjects.

The carol tells us one such story. One cold winter’s evening, the Duke saw a man gathering sticks to make a fire for his family. Wencelas had pity on him and went out to help, supplying not only firewood but food and drink as well. Not only did the Duke help the poor man, he also helped his own page who had gone along to help carry the supplies and became exhausted along the journey.

The central message of the carol is in the last half of the last verse which says,

Therefore, Christian men, be sure

          wealth or rank possessing

ye who now will bless the poor

          shall yourself find blessing.

It’s all about helping others. It’s all about a benevolent ruler who looked after his people in the same way that a shepherd looks after his flock. Good King Wencelas last looked out on the feast of Stephen.

You might wonder why he’s called King Wencelas in the song when he was, in reality, only a duke. As it turns out the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I who ruled shortly after Duke Wencelas’ death, posthumously conferred on him the title of king because of his godly life and his many acts of kindness and charity.

Micah wrote:

Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep,

          this ruler will lead and care for his people.                 Micah 5:4a (NIV)

The Messiah is the Ruler. He is the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. In John 10:11 (NIV), Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Isn’t that what Jesus did? He gave up his life for us. Not only did he give up his life for all of us, he gave up his life for each of us.  

FINDING PEACE

What does that mean for us? It means that we can trust in the One who has our best interests in mind. We can put our faith in him who, like a shepherd, looks out for us every moment of every day. And even more than that, it means that Jesus, as the Ruler, is also the King of Creation.

That’s the Good News of Advent because it means that in the end, Jesus wins. Creation is his and he will come again to reclaim it. In the end, everything will be brought under his control. That is God’s promise to us. On that day, all evil will be vanquished, all suffering will cease. Why? Because he will bring peace. That’s the very last thing that we read in the passage from Micah today. Micah 5:5a (NIV) simply says, “… because he will bring peace.”

Who doesn’t want peace? There is peace needed in the land of Jesus’ birth, where so much needless violence and suffering happen on a daily basis. There is peace neede between nations as China, Russia and the US all flex their muscles and threaten to engage the world in yet another armed conflict. There is the need for peace right here in Canada as those who are for and those who are against vaccinations clash sometimes violently. I will remind you of the protesters who tried to obstruct children from getting their vaccinations at Devonshire Mall a week or so ago. We need to keep all of these situations in mind and in prayer. It doesn’t really matter what side you are on in these matters. The truth is that all of us should be praying for justice and peace. Or in the words of Micah 6:8 (NIV), “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s what we need to do to find peace.

Peace is needed someplace else as well. It’s needed right here in our hearts. Who is burdened today by a heavy heart? Who carries a load on their mind that seems all the more heavy at Christmas? Is there someone you miss? Will there be an empty place at the dinner table on Christmas Day? Do you carry a burden of worry for your children or your parents? Is a friend making bad choices? Is there a sickness in your family or tension between those whom you love? These things all cause turmoil and heartaches.

I wish I could say that you can get rid of them like we do our Christmas trees when we put them out by the side of the road in the new year. But it doesn’t work that way. These things have a tendency to stick around. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find peace.

Sometimes we find peace because the problem goes away. More often we need to find peace in the midst of turmoil. That’s where Jesus comes in. He is the King of Creation but he can also be the Ruler of our Hearts. I’ve said this before during this Advent season but I will say it one more time. Jesus brings peace when we allow him to sit on the thrones of our hearts. That doesn’t mean that he takes all of the pain and longings away. It doesn’t mean that he takes a magic wand and makes everything better. But it does mean that he walks with us through the tough times. It means that we have access to his power and his love. And more than anything else it means that we are never alone.

Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep,

          this ruler will lead and care for his people

          by the power and glorious name of the Lord his God.

His people will live securely, and the whole earth will know his true greatness,

          because he will bring peace.                                                                

                                                                                         Micah 5:4a (NIV)

Once again, that is God’s promise to us. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who brings us peace. My prayer for you is that through faith in him, by letting him sit on the throne of your heart, you will experience the peace that only he can give.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Holy God, we approach you with awe and humility. Your strength is seen in the might of the rocky hills and roaring rivers. Your power is evident in the tremblings of earth and heaven. Your love is shown to us in a child born in Bethlehem.

We approach the day when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and are reminded, once again, of your presence in our lives. During this Advent season, we have focussed on the hope that you give to us. We have tried to experience your peace. We have felt the joy. And we ask again for your precious gift of love. We thank you for Jesus, in whom you came to live with us in a new and wonderful way. Come to our hearts and live, anew, within us, we pray.

We, also, pray O God, those for whom Christmas brings sadness. We lift up in prayer those who remember loved ones who are no longer with us, especially those who are experiencing the first Christmas after the loss of a significant person in their lives. We pray for those whose are living with the loss of health and security. We pray for those whose Christmas will be poorer because of a downturn in family economics through job loss, strikes or other financial hardships. We pray, also, for those who are experiencing depression at this time of year; touch them with a special measure of your joy.

We lift up in prayer those who have been sick at home or in hospital this week. Touch them with you Holy and Healing Spirit.

May your love shine down during this Christmas season so that your peace may rest in our hearts. We look to the day when your peace will rule all creation.

God of Advent, we look forward to the coming of the Christ Child of Bethlehem into our hearts and lives. God of the coming Christmas, may we come to appreciate what a wonderful and special gift he is. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

December 19, 2021 / Advent 4

SCRIPTURE

Psalm 80:1-7; Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-45; Hebrews 10:5-10

CALL TO WORSHIP

We seek the presence of the God of Love;

the One who comes in the gentleness of a baby.

Let us rejoice in the One who brings us peace;

and praise the name of the Holy Child of Bethlehem.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

God of Love, we approach the stable at Bethlehem with eager anticipation. As we draw near to you, help us to honestly examine our motives, actions, and innermost thoughts, measuring them against the standard of your Word. Enlighten us to live by your standards, for your words are truth. May our lives and our worship to pleasing to you who is the Source of all good things. We come with the confidence of your unfailing love. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of the humble and poor, we recognize the poverty of our prayers and the faithlessness of our lives. We have doubted your reality and addressed you without expecting a response. We have come to worship while our minds were far away on other things. You have called us to jump and dance but our feet have plodded along with drudgery through life. Come to save us, O God. Grant us your mercy, for we long to be the people you have called us to be…

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Something within us leaps for joy at the presence of God’s forgiving love. God has done mighty works for us, satisfying our hunger and lifting us above our own sinfulness. The Good News of Jesus Christ is meant for all of us. Thanks be to God.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

As shepherds offered their simple gifts, we offer ourselves to you. Bless us with generousity. Bless us also with thankful hearts that we may truly acknowledge you as the true Giver of Gifts. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

The God of Love has touched our lives. It is our turn to touch the lives of others with the love that we have experienced. May the love of Christ be with you and with us all as we journey towards Bethlehem.

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