Sermon from the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2021

Sergio Rodriguez, Pastor for Community Ministries
Advent 4. December 19, 2021.

“From you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” Micah 5:2

O Root of Jesse, Come and deliver us, delay no longer. Amen.

Waiting, watching, warning: our advent season began with a call to attend to the signs of hope fulfilled all around us (Advent 1, Pr. Rodriguez). We heard of John beckon us to make straight our pathways for the long-expected Lord (Advent 2, Dn. Remmert). Just last week, God urged us to perceive the birth of our savior as proclaiming God’s all-embracing love, if only we allow ourselves to be astounded by its fruits (Advent 3, Rev. Derr). Now God sets before us the way of Bethlehem as our home where hope is revived. Hope for living each day as if we were living in a different reality. Bethlehem, this small mountain top, with no enduring political might, has always been a city of such hope, despite the centuries of occupation.A fellow native of Bethlehem, Pastor Mitri Raheb, friend of this congregation and founder of Dar Al-Kalima, the now first Lutheran College in the Levant, makes this observation about hope: “Hope is living the reality and yet investing in a different one (Faith in the face of Empire: Bible through Palestinian Eyes, pg. 130).” The subject of the sermon, “Bethlehem, place of home-restoring hope,” speaks of hope as a gift active every day, shaping our waiting for God’s tomorrow. Our text comes from our First Lesson, Micah chapter five, verse two, in particular where Micah perceives Bethlehem as place, from which, “one who is to rule in Israel,” shall come.

Pastor Raheb’s experience of Bethlehem is not unlike Micah’s in this sense: both Pastor Raheb and Micah, “struggle(d) to find a faithful response to various and recurring empires.” The Ottoman, British, Jordanian, and Israeli, for him. Pastor Raheb’s home-restoring hope was quite concrete: he invested in the hopes of the next generation and started Dar Al-Kalima at Bethlehem with an eye to creativity. Micah found his fellow country folk as living amongst two empires: from outside the Assyrians laying siege against Israel (Micah 5:1). From inside, the unjust rulers (3:1), the peace-tottering prophets (3:5), and wealthy, conniving landowners (2:2). Micah turned to the way of Bethlehem to find his home-restoring hope. Micah understood Bethlehem within the wider narrative of hope-begotten transformations. Bethlehem was not just simply close to his own home-town of Moresheth but stood for a way for home-reviving hope, for all people.

Consider the story of Rachel, our Matriarch of faith, as she went into labor on the way to Ephrath, i.e., Bethlehem (Gen 35:15-16). The complications of her contractions led to a dire circumstance. She was to perish. Her mid-wife understood this painful truth. Yet as grief swelled within, the mid-wife pointed towards hope, from the outside in. “Do not be afraid, for now you will have another son.” Benjamin is born. Hope mid-wives Jacob’s home with a new beginning. The story of Naomi and Ruth speak volumes as to hope reviving homes with new beginning. After the death of her Son, Elimelech, Naomi allows Ruth to join her home in Bethlehem just in time for the Barley Harvest (Ruth 1:22). Boaz, kin to Naomi, fancies Ruth and redeems both Naomi and Ruth at the city gates (Ruth 4:1, 10). He transforms her Moabite lineage into one of future royal, ancestor of David. Hope is reaped for the home at the opportune time. Yet for Micah, these tidings on the way to Bethlehem leads to the peaceable image of David as the hope of Israel.

God sends Samuel to establish a new King from the line of Jesse (1 Sam 16:1), descendent of Boaz. Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, allowing himself to be astounded by God. Jesse parades his elder, strong sons and yet there is another (16:10). The youngest, the one tending the sheep, David, is left. The Lord commanded Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one (16:12).” Hope is bent from the lowly in our home towards the household of God. When Micah proclaims of Bethlehem, “you…who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel (Mic 5:2),” he sets his hope in the God of Bethlehem, hope for God’s tomorrow. God would bring forth universal peace on the earth, peace for the dying, the widowed, the lowly, because God had done so in centuries past. God would raise a ruler like David (5:2a) but in the likeness of God: Ancient of Days (5:2b), Providential (5:4a), Majestic (5:4a), Peaceable (5:5a). Such was Micah’s hope, for a coming reign of peace. But how does that affect me now? How is such a hope active and alive for me today? I understand the anticipatory character of hope. But what about God’s gift of hope today?

I can only speak for myself when I say that I find anticipation to be unbearable, but hope to be nourishing, real, comforting. I want to share how Las Posadas instilled in my God’s gift of hope, active and live today. Growing up, my parents struggled to feed and clothe my sister and I. Father cleaned carpets. Mother did all the domestics. No matter how broke my parents were that year, Father drove us twenty-five minutes to my great-aunt’s home in Reynosa to celebrate Las Posadas (Lk 2:1-7). I anticipated seeing family, tasting tamales, and playing the part of the Holy Family. Here’s how the night played out. At Sunset, the family would show up to my great-aunt’s home, concrete, no A/C, broken up asphalt everywhere. Then as if out of no where, the family would head to the front door and sing as Mary and Joseph, asking for a place at the inn.

And just for a moment, before I gobbled down tamales and warm chocolate, the mystery of our savior’s birth made sense. We were hope for each other. Like Elizabeth and Mary, my mother and her cousins would speak of God’s goodness for them and for all people in need. We shared a meal, dreams, hardships, joys and sorrows on that night. God gave us the talents, the humor, the struggles, the faith-forged character so that we may see our celebrations as models for daily life. This was our Bethlehem. Our peace today and hope for tomorrow, no matter how out-of-tune our singing was. This is our hope for today. No matter how out-of-tune the world is now in our hearts, in our homes, on account of loss, loneliness, variant or illness. We are on the way to Bethlehem, day by day. Mary and Joseph are with us. God is on the road, unexpected yet waiting for us. All around us and astounding us, just wait and see. Amen.