Saturday, December 19, 2015

Traveling to the Hill Country

Traveling the Hill Country                                                   12/20/15

Micah 5:2-5, Luke 1:39-46


Background to Micah Reading:

          --his name means:  Who is like God?

          --prophesies during the Late 700’s, includes predictions of

                   Fall of Samaria in 722, and judgment of the people

                   during Hezekiah’s rule in 700.

          --3 Eras of Prophets:  Assyria, Babylon, Persia

          --Other Assyrian era prophets:  Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah

          --His 3:12 prophesy is quoted by people defending Jeremiah


During Advent, we remember two comings, that first coming of Jesus, when he was born in a cave outside of Bethlehem, as well as the second coming of Jesus, at the end of the age, when he reveals himself as King of kings and Lord of lords, glorious and One with the Father.

Bethlehem was a small city in the Hill Country of Judah, about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem.  Its original name was Ephrathah, given to it in the time of Jacob, with its meaning “fruitful”.  Bethlehem means “House of Bread”.  How fitting that the place where the Bread of Life was born was named the House of Bread, the place where the Vine of Life was born was named Fruitful.

Micah proclaims that it is this small clan of Bethlehem out of which the Messiah will proceed.  It is out of smallness that the ultimate power of God will come.  Strength comes not from the big city of Jerusalem, but rather, the small town of Bethlehem.

The Messiah’s lineage can be traced to this small town.  Bethlehem will be exalted because out of it is born the Savior.  The Messiah from Bethlehem will rule over Israel, and his origins are from eternity.  The modern translation says “from of old, from ancient times”, but it really means ‘before the creation’, and the same exact phrase is used in Proverbs 8:22-23, when wisdom proceeds to humanity from eternity.

C.F. Keil reminds us “man is bound to time and in his mode of thought, can only picture eternity as time without end”
(Keil, Commentary on the OT:  Minor Prophets.  Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.  1982.  pg. 480)
Eternity is not only time without end, but also time without beginning.  The Messiah that is comes out of Bethlehem is from eternity.

The Messiah enters human history by way of the small town of Bethlehem.

One thousand years before the Messiah came by way of this small town, a young shepherd named David watched over the fields outside Bethlehem.  He was destined to Jerusalem, anointed King by Samuel after being called in from the fields.

Bethlehem was on the highway.  It was a popular stop on the way to Egypt, and to the ancient city of Hebron.  There was an Inn there.  No, really, there was.

And there was also a cave outside the Inn.  This cave was used as a stable.

The Messiah would come to rule the world, by way of Bethlehem.  The Messiah would shepherd his people with strength.  The sheep would be secure.  The Shepherds greatness would reach the ends of the earth.  The Shepherd would be their peace.

The Messiah is from the family line of David the King.  David could not fulfill God’s justice, though he did love God with all of his heart.  The Messiah would come to rule the world; with truth and grace.  He would be our peace.


The teenaged Mary meets older Elizabeth in the hill country.  She endured the difficult travel to meet her relative.  Elizabeth praises Mary, for being chosen by God, and for believing in God’s word and God’s promise.

Mary was blessed to be the mother of the Messiah. She was blessed because she believed what the Lord had said to her, and that the Lord, the Strong Shepherd of his people, had the power to do what he said.

Mary and Elizabeth become models for our faith.  Elizabeth, and John the Baptist growing within her, are filled with the Holy Spirit when they encounter Jesus.   They proclaim with loud voice the wonders of God, the blessing of living in his ways, and she blesses Mary.  Mary is a model because she trusts in God. She remains humble and glorifies the Lord, not herself.

Mary traveled to the Hill Country.  We too, travel there.  Hill Country provides several images for our faith:  hills are not without slippery slopes, and have an element of danger to them.  Their heights offer perspective, and a deep sense of beauty.  You need stamina to climb the hills.

As Christians, our lives, when lived faithfully, are not without potential difficulty and danger.  Christian faith does provide perspective and a sense of beauty not offered by godlessness and faithlessness.  And you do need to be strong to be a Christian, it requires endurance, perseverance, and courage.

Those who have faith enough to travel to the Hill country will meet Jesus Christ there.  Jesus’ birth and death, take place in the Hill Country.  The defining moments of human history take place on a hill.

Long ago, the hills surrounding Bethlehem hosted sheep, and shepherds, like David.  The hills watched throughout the generations as travelers passed by.  The hills welcomed the Messiah as he was born in that little town of Bethlehem.  The House of Bread gave the bread of life to the world.


Some 300 years after the life of Christ, a famous Christian named Jerome spent the last 30 years of his life in Bethlehem.  Living in a cave cell for most of that time, Jerome wrote extensively, including the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Scripture. He also served as a priest to a small number of followers there.  It is delightful to think that one of the church’s most important scholars had journeyed to many places and important cities throughout the world before traveling to the hill country of Bethlehem, to write near the place of his Lord’s birth.

Like Jerome, we should go to the place of Christ’s birth.  It is this wondrous story that leads us to salvation.

Like Jerome, we must spend time interacting with the Word of God, in human flesh Jesus, and in print, the Bible.  This word has the power to save and transform all human life, as well as all life throughout the cosmos.

Like Jerome, we should seek to understand God’s word in such a way that we can also translate to the common person.  Are we pointing people to the bread of life?  Do we walk alongside friend and neighbor and co-worker in order to point them to the Hill Country, where they too might seek and find Jesus Christ?

Are we traveling the Hill Country?  If so, we too will see and know the Messiah, Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, King of kings, Lord of Lords.

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