And HE will be peace! Micha 5, 1-4a
Dear parishioners, today I would like to take up a very central theme of the Christmas proclamation, that we met today already in the first, Old Testament reading: “And he will be the peace”, this was said at the end of the prophet Micah. In the same way, the heavenly hosts put this message in the middle of their praise: “And peace on earth.”
Peace. That’s a big word. Like love, maybe an even bigger word. But even the word peace awakens different pictures with us.
Peace as a longing? Peace as anutopia, likesomething unattainable?
What does it mean when this peace, this shalom, is equated, so to speak, with the Messiah? If this peace becomes the decisive mark, this Messiah?
I believe that peace is a very fundamental, deep longing of us. Peace is the basis for everyone to be satisfied or happy.
The fact that we do not feel this longing for peace so immediately, constantly may have to do with two circumstances: First, we have become accustomed to a world without peace. The peaceful world is the reality in which we live. On the one hand. And on the other hand, we live in Austria or in Europe in a, for many decades, war-free zone. In other words, we live in an environment where gun violence in the form of warlike or looting struggles is the absolute exception.
But even if we say that we do not have to fear for our lives because someone wants to kill us, we still have a lot of unsettled situations. Gerhard Weissenbrunner put peace in relation to righteousness on the 2nd of Advent: there is no peace without justice. But the term justice becomes obvious where there is disarray everywhere, because the world is seldom fair. There are always circumstances where people are under pressure, where they have to bring their performance, so as not to be without work. Injustice starts with the chances of being born in the cradle, let’s just think of the unfair educational opportunities that are passed on, so to speak.
In addition to injustice, there is the whole area of strife, which arises from the fact that we often think of people first and then of our neighbors. Or maybewe adress different wishes or interests. A very simple example from my everyday life, which is good for some strife or strife: I want the computer to be turned off after an hour, so that maybe something else can happen in the day or in the evening. My children think otherwise. Do not ask, what happens, you or I should pull the power plug or press the off button.
So, when we consider all these different forms of strife, from interpersonal peace, to manifold injustices, to the great warlike conflicts, one thing becomes clear: we can not make peace for people. Obviously, real, true peace is one of the things we humans can not do. It is not a state we can reach out of ourselves. With this insight, the proclamation or the promise of peace gets another weight. The peace of God falls from the open heaven, from which the angels announce to the shepherds: “And peace on earth.“
Let’s see how this peace is promised in Micah and how he takes shape in Jesus.
“But you, Bethlehem, in the region of the clan Efrata, the Lord says, ‘As small as you are among the cities of Judah, the future ruler of my people Israel will come from you.’
We connect Bethlehem with the stable and the birth of Jesus, but the people to whom Micah speaks and to whom he wants to inspire hope associate with Bethlehem another memory, namely Bethlehem as the birthplace of King David. At a time when kingship has failed, Jerusalem has been conquered, and the temple has been set on fire, this is the light Micha has in mind. See, God is faithful. God remains true to his plans and will return to the beginning from where everything happened. Bethlehem as royal city and David as the first of a dynasty. God beginshis salvation story with Israel anew and he will do it again as he has done before: He chooses the small city of Bethlehem, in front of the great city of Jerusalem.
This process of God making something small, seemingly insignificant, and doing something great is striking.
It is striking because it is so different from what we humans normally think and act.
“From nothing, nothing will come to pass”, we say or as Natanael we ask: “What can come good from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46) We are incredulous or critical of this event, that the weak could become something great or useful.
But this action of God is repeated in Bethlehem. God himself comes to earth and comes to meet us in the form of a small, vulnerable child. The poverty of a stable is exactly the place God chooses to …
What? What does God possibly want to tell us?
Once again, I return to Micha to pick up three crucial words there. It is the word “graze” and the words “live safely”.
The word “grazing” connects the image of the shepherd with the future ruler. And the image of the Good Shepherd, that we also know from Jesus, says that there is someone here who cares about the sheep. This characterizes the future, new and thus completely different ruler: He cares for the sheep and not primarily or exclusively for himself!
It is the great criticism of all prophets that the powerful do not perform the task they have actually received from God: to lead, protect and supply the people.
And if we go back to Jesus, to the stable, but especially to his life, to his death on the cross, then we see a very different approach than the fight.
Jesus does not fight or challenge his disciples to fight. “If my kingdom were of this world, then my disciples would fight for me” (John 18:36), he holds the epitome of power, he holds to the Roman governor Pilate.
Jesus overcomes the violence by surrendering voluntarily.
In summary, I think that we can learn two things from this action of God or that we should perhaps hear the following: On the one hand, the power that lies in the action and, on the other hand, the importance of what seems to be small and small.
By the first, I mean that our actions are often very much driven by power or feasibility. Not coincidentally, these three terms sound something like that. But often it depends more on what we do not do, but should be given.
If we remain in the possibilities that are possible for ourselves, which we can make or influence, then we are also thrown back on the limitations of our possibilities. But when we realize that crucial things like love, faith, or our current theme of peace, do not depend on us, then yearning can lead us to try to be open. To be open means to allow God’s work.
The second would mean that we pay more attention and more importance to little things. It makes a difference whether I grant someone the right of way without annoying me or someone friendly threading into the queue. It makes a difference whether I smile at someone friendly or have a good word for him on the lips. It makes a difference if I go with someone for two instead of a mile and I’m willing to share. It all looks small, but it makes a difference. A difference we can feel, because doing the will of God always causes something great: joy.
Joy coming from within, making God’s work and God’s peace visible among us.
“And he will be peace!” Says Micha. How to take the shepherds to Bethlehem is to believe that.