09 December 2013
all is bright 2
For those experiencing this dynamic shift there was a certain rise of economic opportunity, on the one hand, but there was, on the other hand, a certain cost of doing such business. Here it was the squeezing out of the little guy from the farming communities that dotted the countryside - the family farms, the small business that either sprang up from or around them, and good men and women and children that made them work. This was where the pressure came, once it had originated from the policies that were designed to further advance those in positions of influence.
Coming from his own rural hometown, the prophet Micah would have known all-too-well the tragedy and heartbreak that these 'land-grabbers' had caused. He came to Jerusalem not only to speak his mind, but to give a prophetic word from Almighty God against such prevailing practices. So it will be that Micah will become God's spokesman, and we can see that he will not mince words in his critique of a wayward nation.
No matter what, it seems as though there will always be people who are determined to cause all sorts of trouble for others, only to gain a little more for themselves - those who will work well into the night to plan their next move come daybreak. When we think of a new day we are supposed to have an excited and optimistic experience of light and life and justice. But in Micah's day this idea of a new day has been corrupted into a time when all sorts of iniquity is being accomplished. While good men and women are busy caring for their families and getting along with their neighbors, the corrupted official leadership of the nation was plotting their next move. Whereas the common person was concerned only for the freedom to live and work and worship as they see fit, there are others who seek control over the populace, and thus gain the profits that come from such dominance.
All of this had become for God's people the way the nation was run. And this is the precise reason why Micah came into town.
Why do these people act in such a way? Simply stated, they do so "because it is in their power to do it." Those in positions of power have decided that they want something (in this case land that belonged to others), so they take it, either through the existing system or through alterations to the system that was designed to protect those outside of the power circles. Those at the top became fond of changing the rules to further benefit themselves. And this was the type of behavior that seemed to have become prized and rewarded in those days.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should. Our own nation is designed to be governed by laws that protect the freedom of all people, that we may live and work and worship in a way that we see fit for ourselves and our families. But the last few generations have seen the American Dream become something else entirely, as more and more of our 'representatives' become enamored with the rewards of political power (and the profits that come from it) over others. Our own limited government has become a behemoth that can - and does - take what it wants through taxation, limiting resources, and the overall manipulation (or rewriting) of a system designed to preserve our culture of freedom. Often this is done throughout the night while others are not watching closely.
(How many times in the last few years alone have we seen non-emergency legislation passed on Sundays, Christian holidays, or in the late hours of the night when most of us are spending our efforts on things much more important than our government?)
As much as it might appear to be, I submit to you that this is not a government problem. Although ours is a national problem, our biggest issue is not that we are missing the right legislation, the right administration, or otherwise. It is a far deeper and more serious problem - we as a nation have lost our sense of morality and belief, not only in God but with one another. A recent poll showed that approximately 70% of Americans do not trust one another - a serious statistics that serves as a symptom of our present trouble.
Micah has a stern warning for those who conduct this type of business-as-usual, and he appeals to God's law as he puts forward his case. There are those who covet, cheat one's neighbor, act in violence to another's property, and defrauded others. Each of these is specifically and strictly forbidden in the God-given law for Israel. Micah promises that to those who have taken the freedom which God had given through the covenant and redistributed it among themselves will find that it will be Almighty God who will redistribute all things according to his will. Those who decide to take what they want by force will quickly discover that they can lose what they have by force.
The issue of morality is that of a misplaced confidence in one's own accomplishment and achievement. Whenever we forget that it is God alone who gives to us and blesses us with all things, then we are set up for catastrophic consequences. Micah came with this message and, understandably, was not readily welcomed by those who were indicted by his words. Instead of hearing his voice they turned to their own so-called 'official prophets' found in the king's court.
Instead of considering for a moment that Micah's warning might hold some merit, the voices within the administration tried to shout him down. In those days any voice that did not participate in the positivism that was being pushed by the PR campaigns of the court were simply shoved to the side. Instead, it was reported that people only wanted to hear about God's love and special regard for his people - forget all of that wrath and judgment, overly fundamentalist stuff. But Micah knew that the preaching of half-truths would only lead his nation further down the path to destruction and death. So he then went after the nation leadership in specific, for they were the ones who decided to only listen to the more popular - but fake - theologies.
The problem with these other messages was that they did not result in covenant obedience. If the greed and dishonest type of behavior was what came from those who followed these other so-called prophets, then Micah knew that they were not speaking on behalf of God. The same can be said of us today - the way we act is a sign of our devotion to God's Word, and if we have churches and church-cultures that continue to act immorally, then our message (and messengers) might be suspect.
When Micah's generation had rejected God and his Word they forfeited the covenant-blessings that were promised to them. They refused to admit this, but the evidence shows otherwise, that God's promises are for God's saints. What happened in those days is that the vast wealth that God had poured upon his people as they inhabited the land was not being manipulated and concentrated to the wealthy. Therefore, the land has become defiled, and rejects those who try to inhabit it with such sin and malice in their hearts. The nation is headed for certain disaster because of this heart-problem. Who are we to think that we are not on this same disastrous path?
While the dissenting voices, like Micah, decry those who manipulate God's Word and the freedom he has endowed to his creation, there are those living it up and guaranteeing us that such disaster would never happen to us. But how can anyone make such assurances against that which God has spoken in his Word? If our injustices and our iniquities look like that which is described in Micah, then why do we think that we will not arrive at the same catastrophic result? Our nation is presently in deep trouble, and it will not do to pretend that all is fine ... even though so many of those in our national leadership, and even among the most popular pulpits, are content to fiddle away while the city burns.
The second week of Advent is supposed to be about peace, and it is difficult to grab hold of that them when you consider what we have said thus far. Indeed, there is a lot of work before us if we are going to be the people of God in both word and deed. But it appears that God is not yet finished with his people, for the words of Micah have a bit more ...
Even in the blackest hour Micah looked forward with great expectation for the coming of Almighty God, when he would restore and renew his own and take away the injustice and iniquity. These will be the days when his covenant will be firmly established. It appears as though God is not afraid of governments, political machines, or the rich and powerful. Even when such entities appear to us as insurmountable obstacles, he breaks through those chains which weigh upon his people - his freedom is never thwarted.
The story of God's deliverance once again come sot his people when they have been overtaken by corruption, even in the highest levels of national and religious leadership. Micah's words promise God's salvation to come once more to restore his people form their captivity to sin and corruption. And this would happen in one particular event that would come many years after Micah had said his piece.
Luke's telling of the gospel reminds us that, even in the midst of the greatest worldly powers - in this case it is the reign of Caesar and the rule of Rome - that God comes to his people with the salvation they so desperately need. This child would come to save his people from their sins - the deliverance that goes beyond politics, governments, social-change, and the like. It will be salvation of our heart-problem - a radical transformation of our lives, if we allow it to enter.
There is great darkness around us, but we have no reason to be fearful of it. We have a peace that goes beyond all human understanding, for we have the light of the world at work in us and through us that we might go out and illuminate the surrounding darkness withe the presence of Christ. It we hold firm to our belief in Christmas then we will not be overcome by the turbulence of our culture, nor will we be overshadowed by the corruption that surround us. We will be those who embody the gospel of Jesus, proclaiming that all is calm and all is bright.