The Second Sunday in Advent| December 6, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| Micah 4, 1-7
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all people walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. “In that day,” says the LORD, “I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever. Micah 4:1-7
Politicians promise a better future. If they are running for reelection they remind you of how things are much better now than they were before they were elected. If they are challenging an incumbent, they remind you of how things are much worse now than they were. Politicians promise a better future if you will only have the foresight to elect them. And since you deserve a golden future you must deserve their leadership.
And what do they deliver? Budget deficits, recessions, foreign wars, and an inflated currency. Ah, but think of how much better off you are than you would be if the other guy got elected! It’s no wonder that many Americans give up on the political system altogether and don’t even bother going to the polls to vote.
I suppose it’s par for the course for politicians to buy votes with empty promises. As the famous circus master observed, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Praise the customer. Make him think he’s smart, tasteful, discriminating, and kind. He’ll buy whatever you want to sell him.
If political hucksters are a bane on the democratic process, religious hucksters are far worse. They don’t just promise material prosperity. They promise peace with God. They teach you to find within yourselves that spark of the divine so that you can connect with God. They point to themselves as examples of spiritual success. You, too, can find what they have found. Just do what they have done. Thus religion is turned into a vehicle for obtaining personal power.
The future is outside of our control. It is in the hands of him who created this world and who will bring this world to an end. This world will come to an end. The powers of heaven will be shaken. All of nature will be thrown into turmoil. People’s hearts will fail from fear. The end of all things will come when people least expect it. It will come when God decides. He is in charge of the future.
God is in charge of time.
The prophet Micah lived hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. He wrote at a time when the future looked pretty bleak. He wrote of the future. And the future he wrote about is here with us right now.
Micah writes of the latter days. Those are the days in which we are now living. He describes the time when God’s Word would be proclaimed throughout the world. He writes:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it.
Clearly, the prophet is not talking about a geographical location. He’s not talking about setting Mt. Zion, where the temple is located, above Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. He is rather talking about a time when the Word of God entrusted to Israel and proclaimed through her prophets and displayed in her temple will be proclaimed all over the world. Nations all over the world will flock to Zion.
The prophet continues:
Many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And so Jesus said to his disciples as recorded by St. Luke the Evangelist:
Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. St. Luke 24, 46-47
The glory of Jerusalem is the glory of the Holy Christian Church. Wherever the word of God is faithfully proclaimed there the nations of the world flock to Mt. Zion to receive instruction from God himself.
It is a wonderful thing. Taught in catacombs in ancient Rome where the early Christians hid from hostile authorities; proclaimed in prisons behind the Iron Curtain; preached on the American prairie; confessed in tribes of people all over the world – Mt. Zion is established on top of all the mountains of the word. God’s holy Word unites people of different cultures and languages and histories.
And where God’s Word is taught God himself is active. His word is never just letters on a page or sounds coming out of the mouth. God is teaching. He is teaching his ways, not the ways of the world.
The prophet continues:
He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
Here is a true and lasting peace. It doesn’t come about by military might. Swords and spears have no authority here. It is a peace between nations and between individuals. Warfare is unknown, for they have been set at peace with God and with one another. They aren’t afraid of judgment, death, or any calamity of any kind. Nobody can make them afraid because they are in the hands of the gracious God who defends them from all evil.
Within this Holy Christian Church there is perfect healing. There is perfect unity. There is perfect strength. The prophet gives his faithful description of life in the Holy Christian Church:
For all people walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. “In that day,” says the LORD, “I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever.
The Church doesn’t derive her strength from herself. It is her gracious Lord who gathers her together. Of herself she is lame and outcast. She has no future. She has nothing of which to boast. But the God in whose name she walks gathers her together as a strong nation, a nation above all nations, a people above all peoples. As Mary declared when she learned she would give birth to the Son of God:
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. (Luke 1, 51-53)
Ah, but the glory of Zion is hidden from sight. If only the world could see it! If only the people would recognize it! But our glory as the Church is hidden under suffering. It is hidden under weakness. It is hidden under sin. It is revealed only to faith and faith is engendered only by the means of grace: by the preaching of the gospel, by the washing of Holy Baptism, by the absolution of Christ, and by the Sacrament of his holy body and blood. To the world, not very impressive. But to the faithful, the treasures of heaven entrusted to us.
Christians are always tempted to set aside their true glory and identity in preference for a cheap imitation. They yearn for a worldly fulfillment of the prophet’s prophecy. This is the source of an error – a false doctrine – known as millennialism. Millennialists believe that Jesus will rule visibly on this earth during a thousand year reign in which peace and prosperity abound everywhere. War will be abolished. No one will do without. They believe that such prophecies as the one before us today are to be fulfilled politically and literally. Their spiritual fulfillment isn’t sufficient for them.
Millennialism tends to be popular when things look bad for the Church on earth. She suffers persecution, loss of members, loss of influence in the world, and so forth. Premillennialists want Jesus to come back and make things right. They want a better world.
Millennialism is a seductive theory. Think of all the wars waged throughout history. Think of the slaughter, the destruction, the broken families, the hatred, the poverty, the desolation, the wounds, the suffering. Oh, for a world in which such things cannot happen. What a wonderful world that would be!
But there is a peace. It is better than the peace imagined by millennialist dreamers. It is a peace deeper than the mere cessation of armed conflict. It is peace between God and us.
One of the names given to the promised Christ by the prophet Isaiah is Prince of Peace. He becomes the Prince of Peace not by speaking words but by doing deeds. First come his deeds. Then come his words. His deeds are vicarious. He does what he does in our stead. He becomes the substitute for all sinners. He does what peace requires. The Word made flesh submits to the written Word. Thus, he fulfills all of its promises. By obeying and by dying he does what peace needs done.
Then he speaks words of peace. They are almighty words empowered by his obedience and by his blood. The peace he achieved is now given. It is given to faith. Wherever and whenever sinners hear in faith the gospel of peace there and then it is that God establishes peace on earth. There the spears are beat into pruning hooks. There the swords are beat into plowshares. There true peace reigns in the human heart for there faith receives the forgiveness of sins sealed by the Holy Spirit. Miracle of miracles! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
That’s what the Church is. It is those who are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. It is the community of saints, the fellowship of those who are born from above and justified by the blood of the Lamb.
She is beautiful! She will never perish from this earth. She is the hospital for souls. She is the pillar and ground of truth. She is the nation above all nations. She is the apple of God’s eye. To her all nations of the world will continue to come, drawn by the treasures that Christ has graciously entrusted to her. We, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are Christ’s Church here in this place. We lay claim to every gift she has received. We are at peace with God and one another. We are wealthy beyond compare. Amen