Sunday’s sermon: Making, Doing … Hoping … Preparing

Text used – Micah 5:2-5a; 6:6-8

  • Y’all know just how much I love my to-do lists, and I know that I’m not the only one here that feels that way about making and completing those lists.
    • Lists for packing → Yup, mine are typed up in Word documents on my computer so I can adjust them from year to year before I use them again.
    • Lists for shopping
    • Lists for day-to-day activities → I know y’all have seen the running to-do list that I keep on the whiteboard in my office. And, if you’re so inclined, after worship today you can go in and see how relatively short that list is at the moment!
    • Lists for specific events → 2 separate to-do lists from our Outreach Team mtg. last Thurs. night
      • One for Christ the Servant Sunday that we’ll be celebrating next week
      • One for the Christmas Cookie Sale
    • Lists for special occasions → I may or may not have a detailed, 5-pg. document sitting in my office right now that is every step and every ingredient for the multiple elements that will go into our dessert for Christmas Eve dinner … and that document may or may not be complete with a computer-rendered diagram of said dessert. I don’t know.
    • I even keep an announcements to-do list on my bulletin every Sunday!
    • But as it turns out, there’s a significant psychologically beneficial component to the practice of to-do lists. – article from CNN Health: To-do lists can be great tools for decreasing anxiety, providing structure and giving us a record of everything we’ve accomplished in a day. The trick is to reframe your to-do list as a set of miniature goals for the day and to think of your checklist items as steps in a plan. Research on the psychology of goal-making has revealed that an unfinished goal causes interference with other tasks you’re trying to achieve. But simply making a plan to facilitate that goal, such as detailing steps on a to-do list, can help your mind set it aside to focus on other things.[1]
      • Doesn’t matter what medium you use for your to-do list
        • Any loose sheet of paper
        • Whiteboard
        • Digital format (smartphone, tablet, etc.)
        • Journal pages/special “to-do” notebook
        • Even Post-It notes
      • Doesn’t matter what your list is for
        • Regular, every-day tasks
        • Special events/significant tasks
        • Very specific purposes → Making a Christmas Eve dessert, for example.
    • In fact, I think heading into the holiday season is probably when people have the most to-do lists rattling around in their heads or their phones or their wallets.
      • To-do lists for holiday food
      • To-do lists for gifts
      • To-do lists for other holiday activities
        • Parties/gatherings to attend
        • Decorations to dust off and put up
        • Traditions to enjoy
        • Charitable donations to make (either monetary donations or donations of time or other needed items)
    • But what about our faith? We’re coming up on the season of Advent – a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ-child. But how much preparing do we actually do this time of year as far as our faith is concerned? How often do we make a concerted effort to getting our hearts and our spirits ready for the birth of Love Incarnate – the coming of God in human form? Or do we expend all of our energy on the physical preparations for the season and simply sit back and wait for God to find us in and amidst the hustle and bustle?
  • Today’s Scripture reading from Micah = powerful reading that binds together the “doing” side of faith with the “hoping” side of faith
    • Background for Micah from scholar: Prophesying toward the end of the eighth century BCE, Micah was a witness to the antagonism of the Assyrian Empire against Israel and Judah, including the capture of Samaria in 722 BCE and the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE, when the capital of Judah survived by the skin of its teeth. Instability and war were all around, and that sense of danger is reflected in the many judgment oracles found throughout the book, especially in the first three chapters. Chapters 4-5 take on a more hopeful tone, while chapters 6-7 are a mix of both judgment and hope.[2]
    • Passage today can be broken up into the two sections (both by chapter and by theme within those chapters)
      • First part (from ch. 5) = reminder of what we’re preparing for
      • Second part (from ch. 6) = how to prepare
      • So let’s investigate these two sections a little more closely.
  • First section: what we’re preparing for – text: As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you. His origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Therefore, he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor gives birth. The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. They will dwell secure, because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace.[3]
    • Surely, as Christians, we read the words of this prophecy and believe that they point to Jesus: coming from Bethlehem, coming on God’s behalf, one who will shepherd his flock, one who will “surely become great throughout the earth.” By our understanding … through our belief … God is speaking through Micah to point the way to Jesus – the Messiah, the Christ.
    • One really particular phrase that grabs my attention in this passage – end of v. 2: His origin is from remote times, from ancient days.
      • Heb. “origin” = particular word that encompasses both the act of something going forth AND the place from which that something has come → It’s a word that very much encompasses the eternal nature of Christ as God Made Flesh.
        • Expansive nature of who the coming Messiah was and is and will be is also found in the rest of that phrase
          • Heb. “remote times,” “ancient,” and “days” = all words that ring with eternity, with a cyclical view of time – indicating beginning as well as ending, what was before and what lies ahead
        • Brings to mind the beginning of gospel of Jn: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.[4]
    • Passage also speaks not only of who is coming but also of what this One will bring
      • Reunion and return
      • Protection and guidance of a shepherd
      • Strength of the Lord
      • Majesty of God’s name
      • Security and peace
      • Those sound like the words of another prophet, don’t they? – Is: A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever.[5]
    • These are the promises that came with Jesus more than 2000 years ago, but I think that we often forget that they’re the promises that still come with Jesus today and the promises that Jesus will bring with him again when he returns. Today, I think we’re so far removed from that incredible night full of angels and shepherd and a birth and the brilliant light of a guiding star that we forget that that Jesus is the one we’re still preparing for today. Advent isn’t just about “preparing for Jesus” by putting out our creche and lighting a special candle during worship or maybe even at home around the dinner table. Advent is about preparing ourselves to receive the light and promise of Christ into our hearts anew, and it’s about preparing ourselves for Christ to come again – a coming that will change things forevermore.
      • Scholar: [Micah] is pointing to a leader who stands “in the strength of the Lord,” rather than in the strength of weapons or power or wealth or territory. Here is a difference that makes a difference. It takes one’s breath away, this promise. In these few verses, tucked away in a slim prophetic book, Micah captures the ache with which we live each day and the hope that is in us for a future that only God can deliver. Life is precarious, and so too are the so-called securities we purchase with our dollars and in which we place so much trust: insurance policies, savings accounts, credit cards, physicians, and elected officials. Like us, they are here today but gone tomorrow. Christians understand God’s provision of true security in the One whose birth the church is soon to celebrate. Christ is our security. He is bread for our hunger, drink for our thirst, and life for our death.[6]
  • And if that’s the “who” and the “what” that we’re preparing for, then what about the “how”? → shift our focus to the second part of today’s reading – familiar portion from ch. 6: With what should I approach the LORD and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit? He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.[7]
    • Begins with an age-old question – one that we’ve asked ourselves … and each other … and God time and again throughout the millennia → As long as people have placed their faith in God – this incredible, powerful, compassionate, protecting God who we cannot see or hear … As long as people have place their faith in God, we have also wondered about the best way to approach God. The most appropriate way. The most reverent way. The most effective way. Even the safest way!
      • Question that has spurred so many of the interactions throughout Scripture – both First Testament and New Testament stories
      • Question asked by Micah again this morning: How should I come before God?
    • Response reads a little like a side-by-side to-do list and “anti-to-do list”
      • Ways not to come before God: Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?[8] → The particular form of the Hebrew here makes it clear that, while Micah is asking rhetorical questions, he’s asking those rhetorical questions in a way that deliberate leads to a “no” answer. So this is the “anti-to-do list.”
        • I should not come with entirely burned offerings and year-old calves
        • God will not be pleased with thousands of rams and torrents of oil
        • I should not give my oldest child
      • To-do list follows on the heels of these rhetorical questions: He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.[9]
        • Scholar: If Judeo-Christian ethics had to be summarized on a bumper sticker, Micah 6:8 would fit the bill … There may be no better summary of the neighborly ethic voiced by prophets, codified in the commandments, and incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth.[10]
  • So there it is: our to-do list for preparing our hearts, our minds, our spirits, and our lives for the coming of Christ – the coming that was over 2000 years ago, the coming that is when we wake up every morning and choose to follow Christ, and the coming that will be.
    • CNN Health article about to-do lists and goals: In order to work effectively, your to-do list’s mini-goals also need to be well defined and have short time frames. That’s because people also tend to give up in the middle of goals, according to psychologists. … “We celebrate graduations at work and cheer when we finish big projects. But there is no celebration for middles. That’s when we both cut corners and we lose our motivation,” said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago who is an expert on motivation and decision-making. “We will still slack in that middle, and having long projects invites a long middle.”[11] → So here’s my challenge to you today as we think about the coming season of Advent: spend some time really thinking about how you want to prepare for Christ this season.
      • Maybe prayer
      • Maybe volunteering/service
      • Maybe giving
      • Maybe just finding 5 solid minutes somewhere in your day to think about what the coming of Christ means to you → how the coming of Christ has changed, does change, and will change you
        • And we’re going to begin that preparation by moving straight into our time of Exploring the Word Together with this morning’s question: How can we prepare for Christ today? Friends, let us be the word of God for one another this morning.

[1] Lauren Kent. “The psychology behind to-do lists and how they can make you feel less anxious” from CNN Health, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/health/to-do-lists-psychology-coronavirus-wellness/index.html. Posted July 14, 2020, accessed Nov. 13, 2022.

[2] Cameron B.R. Howard. “Commentary on Micah [1:3-5];5:2-5a; 6:6-8” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/micah-2/commentary-on-micah-13-5-52-5a-66-8-2.

[3] Mic 5:2-5a.

[4] Jn 1:1-4.

[5] Is 9:6-7.

[6] Nancy S. Taylor. “Fourth Sunday of Advent – Micah 5:2-5a – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common LectionaryYear C, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 76.

[7] Mic 6:6-8.

[8] Mic 6:6b-7.

[9] Mic 6:8.

[10] Andrew Foster Connors. “Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Micah 6:1-8 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 290.

[11] Kent, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/health/to-do-lists-psychology-coronavirus-wellness/index.html.