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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Little Bethlehems Of Ephrathah - 12/19/2015

We're almost there.

The event we've been looking toward in these last four weeks is just over the crest of the next few days. The anticipation is building. The light of our Advent Wreath shines noticeably brighter as we get closer to marking the time when the Christ child arrived. In our homes, many of us have cleaned, decorated and prepared to celebrate the season with family and friends. Christmas music full of lyrics of hope and messages of friendship and love travel through the air almost everywhere we go.

As I read from a reflection on Advent this past Wednesday at Holden Evening Prayer, “Christmas is the guest everyone is eagerly watching for. We’re looking out the window, checking our watches, squealing with glee, and clamoring to the door as it finally pulls into the driveway. It’s here! It’s here!” (Siri Liv Myhrom, The Shoulder Season of Advent, http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-shoulder-season-of-advent/8190)

Yes, God's activity is big and life-changing for all of God's people, for all of creation. God chose to come among us in the beautiful and sometimes fragile form of a human being, to the point where God died on a cross for us and freed us to eternal life in and with God. In that deep and abiding mercy, we were shown the way to forgiveness through the bread and the wine and the waters of baptism. It was so for the generations that came before us. It is so for us today as we give thanks for our baptisms and come to the table together, and it is so for the generations to come. It's a big deal.

Our texts today seems to pull away from all the bigness of this news a little bit though, and point us to the origins of this work of the Holy Spirit, the places and people and experiences God works through to bring about this big deal. And they are small places.

Our prophet Micah today comes from a time when the kingdom of Judah, which had tried under King Hezekiah to fortify and protect its cities and its people, were just being annihilated by Sennacherib, the mighty Assyrian military leader. Despite their efforts to protect themselves, city after city throughout the kingdom was being run over by the Assyrians. And this little town of Bethlehem knew it was likely next and there was little that could be done about it. And yet, out of that destruction and chaos comes this voice of hope and a glimpse into a future that, for us Christ followers, points courageously and hopefully toward the Messiah. “ And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (5:4-5a)

Out of a little and vulnerable place – Bethlehem of Ephrathah – the prophecy of our Savior arises. Bethlehem means house of bread, and Ephrathah means fruitful. That is what is presented to us today – this fruitful house of bread.

I'm going to do something a little different in my sermon today, I'm going to sing you a song.  It's called the Cherry Tree Carol. This is an old song – dating back to the 15th century, but it continues to have life breathed into it. Peter Paul and Mary did a well-known recording of it a few decades ago. Larry and I know well it from a 2009 recording by Sting.

It's a lovely little carol that I think matches the emphasis of our texts today. It's a simple song of two faithful people who trust God, but also experience moments of doubt and confusion and even anger. They are very much like us.

It is my prayer that as you listen to the the words of this carol, you will be reminded of the ways God is still at work in all the little places of the world through people and situations … how God is magnified in the souls of the faithful like us gathered here tonight and so many others outside these doors, all of us little Bethlehems of Ephrathah through whom God's enormous acts of mercy continue to enter into this world and favor the lowly, feed the hungry, and call the overly proud and power hungry back to the way of the Lord.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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