It was the prophet Micah who prophesied that the Messiah would come from the small village of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2-5). In Micah’s day there was no “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” It helps to have some historical context in order to understand and appreciate the promise of God.
Ever since the time of Solomon the kingdom was divided between north and south: the northern kingdom of Israel with Samaria as its capital; and, the southern kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. In the 8th century B.C. the powerful Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. They deported many of the Israelites and re-populated the cities with their own people. This is why the Jews in Jesus’ day looked down on Samaritans. They pejoratively viewed them as “half-breeds” who were a mix of Jewish and Assyrian descent.
The Assyrian takeover of Israel not only left the northern kingdom in shambles but had a large impact on the southern kingdom of Judah. All of Judah and Jerusalem were in extreme duress. Even though Judah had not been conquered and was intact, they were still forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians in order to keep them at bay. The problem became even more exacerbated because the leadership of Judah wanted to maintain their power and lifestyle. They expected the poor to shoulder the burden of the tribute to the Assyrians.
In addition, thousands of refugees from Israel were flooding into Judah and Jerusalem. They had lost their homes, their land, and had nothing but their lives. So, the already scant resources in Judah were pushed to the brink. Judah was a mess. Those in authority and power, the ones with the resources that could make something of a difference, ended up taking advantage of the situation by buying fields and land at a fraction of its worth because people were just trying to survive. In some cases the leadership leveraged their power by pushing people off their land and taking it over. It was anything but a time of security, peace, and actions of goodwill.
Into this terrible situation of hardship and survival Micah’s message was that a new kind of leader will come. He will have humble origins, just like the common oppressed people of Judah. The refugees, the displaced farmers, and the poor will have a champion. He will feed them and shepherd them, leading them to green pastures. This leader will serve the people instead of the people serving the leader.
As Christians, we understand this prophecy to speak of our Messiah Jesus. This is why we look at Scriptures like this one during the season of Advent. Just as the ancient Jews needed hope and the promise of a different ruler, so today we, too, need hope and the anticipation of the leader who will come again with an agenda using power for security, peace, and goodwill.
Jesus is the promised one to come. His exercise of leadership and power is different than earthly politicians and officials. Israel and Judah had been so filled with bad kings and self-serving leadership over the centuries that Christ’s disciples could barely conceive of a different kind of rule. This is why Jesus called his disciples together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-43).
The greatest Christmas gift we can give this season is the gift of our lives to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. When we see that God always keeps his promises; when we gain the understanding that Jesus is the fulfillment of all those good promises; and, when we receive the gift of the Spirit, it is not a duty but a delight to give ourselves to the triune God who has orchestrated salvation for us. Since Jesus loves and serves us, it is a small thing for us to give ourselves to him in return. May this be the reason for your joy, peace, and goodwill this season, to the glory of God.