“Glory to the Newborn King!”
(Micah 5:2-5 – Christmas Day – December 25, 2018)
Micah 5:2-5 – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. 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 abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace.
Dear Redeemed in the name of the newborn Christ Child:
When a royal baby is born, historically it has been a big deal. There are certain traditions to mark the importance of the occasion. In England, for example, births have traditionally taken place on royal residences, such as Buckingham Palace; though more recently this has been broken. Also according to tradition, after the royal baby is born, an official birth announcement is posted in front of the Palace on an easel, declaring to the public the baby’s gender. Another tradition, continuing from medieval times, has an unofficial town crier going about announcing the birth to the public. Of course, nowadays news gets around fast on social media. In addition, to honor newborn royalty, there is a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London, and a 41 gun salute near Buckingham Palace. In the days to come, there follow other traditions, such as the naming of the child, and the royal christening and first public presentation – complete with all the pomp and circumstance one would expect. Who would not know that a royal baby has been born?
Today, we are gathered to honor the birth of The Royal Baby – of whom England’s Queen Victoria is once reported to have said: “I should like to lay my crown at His feet.” It is He who is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16), at whose name every knee shall bow “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). It is He whose birth all the angel hosts of heaven announced with great joy that holy night, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)
Today, we join the herald angels’ singing: “Glory to the Newborn King!” And as we bow beside His manger, we 1) Marvel at His lowly birth and we 2) Rejoice in His royal blessings.
1) Marvel at His lowly birth
Yes, marvel at His lowly birth! For who would have expected such a King to be born this way? While the birth of heirs to the throne have traditionally taken place in royal palaces and fine settings, it was nothing like that at the birth of heaven’s King in our flesh. Who knew about His birth that holy night – except for a poor young couple, who could find no better place for the birth than an animal stall; and besides them, a small party of unnamed shepherds, who had been tending their flocks? Lacking all the pomp and circumstance that would accompany a royal birth, who would have known that a baby of any importance had been born in that lowly setting outside the little town of Bethlehem?
Yet it happened just as the prophet Micah announced 700 years before: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
Marvel at His lowly birth – for though the King of heaven is “from everlasting,” yet He humbled Himself to be born in time. In our Gospel lesson, it describes Him as the Word of God, who was there “in the beginning,” at creation. From eternal realms He appears with God, as God, speaking all things into being. Yet, before He created the time and seasons of the universe, before anything existed, He always was. Yet, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). The eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us in human history: “and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary; and after nine months, He was born into the world. The eternal King of kings chose for Himself a birthday that can be celebrated to this day!
Again, marvel at His lowly birth – for though the King of heaven is infinite God, which the universe cannot contain, yet He humbled Himself to born from such small beginnings. He was conceived within the finite bounds of a single a human cell, to grow within the confines of the womb, finally to be born as a tiny baby you could hold in your arms.
In addition, the location of His birth was small. As the birth announcement declared: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel.” The little town of Bethlehem had always seemed insignificant in size. When taking census among districts of Israel containing 1000 families, who would have bothered counting the little town of Bethlehem? Yet, it was the hometown of David, that great King of Israel 1000 years before. And where David had been born from such humble settings, so also God had decreed that His Son, who is also David’s Son, would be born there.
When the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, decreed that all the world under his vast reign should be registered in a census, little did he know the eternal plans that were coming full term in that tiny village. But as the angels watched, God guided that young couple, descendants of David, each step to that place He had chosen for the birth of His Son. We read in Luke 2:4-7: “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Yes, today we marvel at the lowly birth of heaven’s King in our flesh – for though as God He is eternal, infinite, and all-powerful; yet, He chose to humble Himself and set aside His power. The Son of God chose to be born in weakness, needing the care of His earthly parents. Though the royal courts of heaven and mansions of glory belong to Him; yet, He chose to be born where there was no room for Him, content to have His earthly beginnings in an animal stall. And sure enough, following the angel’s birth announcement, the shepherds found the royal Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a lowly manger where the animals fed.
2) Rejoice in His royal blessings
No, it was not the traditional birth you might expect for a great king – especially heaven’s King. But there is a reason why a royal child, an heir to the throne, might be born in such adverse conditions. We may think of times in history when war or poverty ravaged the land, and a royal baby had to be born in less than desirable circumstances. Indeed, heaven’s King was born into a world ravaged by war and poverty. But here we speak of spiritual things. He who was delivered in such poverty and lowliness came to deliver us from spiritual enemies and raise us up in the glorious riches of His Kingdom. Therefore secondly, we come to rejoice in His royal blessings.
When the words in our text were given by God through the prophet Micah, Israel would soon be ravaged by war and poverty. Yet, it was part of God’s just judgment on the land; for many of the people in God’s chosen nation had fallen away from the true faith, and turned to serve false gods. They were living in smug self-security, greedily enjoying the riches of this world, without care for the true God and heavenly things.
Thus we come to the words in our text: “Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel.” Yes, before He “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” would be born in Bethlehem to rule His people, God would chastise His people by giving them up to their enemies. First the powerful Assyrians, then the Babylonians, would come and ravage the land and reduce it to poverty, taking many captives. Thus God was showing the people just how poor was their spiritual condition, and how enslaved they had become as captives to sin – in order that their hearts might be turned back to Him in repentance and faith. In fact, even until the first Christmas, when she who was in labor would give birth, Israel would still remain under the thumb of one enemy ruler after another. So for centuries, the faithful remnant longed for the coming of that heavenly Ruler, the divine Deliverer whose birth was foretold by the prophets.
And here, if we are truly to celebrate the birth of heaven’s King, who was born to deliver us, if we are truly to rejoice in His royal blessings, we must first see our own spiritual condition. We were born into a world ravaged by spiritual war and poverty. As children of Adam and Eve, flesh born of their flesh, we all had fallen to the temptation of Satan and become captives of sin. How clearly it shows, as we are no longer able to fulfill the royal Law of heaven’s King – loving Him above all else, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. How often we put other things before God; how often we selfishly put ourselves before others. Thus we all had become impoverished in our sinful state, having lost the riches of paradise and fellowship with God in His Kingdom. We all had come under captivity to Satan, sin, death, and hell. How desperately we all needed Him to be born who alone could deliver us.
What a relief it was when, over a world embattled in spiritual darkness, there came that angelic birth announcement, declaring God’s deliverance and peace for sinners: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
That Son of lowly birth, born in the little town of Bethlehem, had come to save us as only God in our flesh can do. Being conceived by the Holy Spirit, He inherited no sinful nature from Adam. Therefore the holy Son of God and Son of Mary, from the womb to the cross, fulfilled the perfect Law of God. But He did not do it for Himself – He did it for you and me. He lived the perfect life God is now counting to us for righteousness. And as the innocent Son of God, He would offer up His life before His Father, and shed His precious blood on the cross, as the once for all sacrifice that has taken away the sin of the world.
Thus, our lowly born King came to deliver us from our spiritual enemies and bring us His royal blessings. Jesus was born to crush Satan’s head and release us from his captivity. Jesus was born to win our forgiveness, and release us from all condemnation. Jesus was born to conquer death itself, and release us from the power of death. Heaven’s King has come to lift us up from our poor and lowly state, into the glorious riches of His eternal Kingdom.
And now, we may rejoice in His royal blessings, not only at Christmas time, but every day. Because that little Lamb of God, whom the shepherds came to see in the manger at Bethlehem, has become our Good Shepherd. This is how our text describes Him and His work: “Then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. 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 abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace.”
The Good Shepherd, who came to lay down His life for His sheep, now gathers “the remnant of His brethren” from “the ends of the earth.” He gathers sinners to Himself by His Gospel of forgiveness. He gathers us as sheep into His flock, by His gift of Baptism and faith. He gathers us as His brothers and sisters, children of God and heirs of eternal life in Christ. He stands among us and feeds us, nourishing our souls and our faith in the green pastures of His Word and Sacraments.
As our Good Shepherd, He cares for us as only God in our flesh can do:
- He who is “from everlasting,” and yet lived among us in time – is able to understand our day to day needs of life in this world, and to work all things together for our eternal good.
- He who is infinite, filling the heavens, and yet was born of such small beginnings – is able to be with us always, and guarantee to us that nothing can separate us from His love.
- He who is all-powerful, ruling with all power over the universe, and yet was born in weakness – is able to understand our weakness, to protect us from evil, and at last raise us from death to His royal mansions in heaven.
How good it is for us to know that heaven’s King was born to us, not in the traditional way of royalty, but just the way we needed. Today we join the angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, wise men and kings. We come beside the manger of Him who is King of kings, bowing every knee, laying every crown at His feet. As we marvel at His lowly birth, and we rejoice in His royal blessings, we sing: “Glory to our newborn King!” Amen.