Advent: Born to Set the People Free

Micah 2:1-13

Alas for those who devise wickedness
   and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
   because it is in their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
   houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
   people and their inheritance.
Therefore, thus says the Lord:
Now, I am devising against this family an evil
   from which you cannot remove your necks;
and you shall not walk haughtily,
   for it will be an evil time.
On that day they shall take up a taunt-song against you,
   and wail with bitter lamentation,
and say, ‘We are utterly ruined;
   the Lord alters the inheritance of my people;
how he removes it from me!
   Among our captors he parcels out our fields.’
Therefore you will have no one to cast the line by lot
   in the assembly of the Lord.

‘Do not preach’—thus they preach—
   ‘one should not preach of such things;
   disgrace will not overtake us.’
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
   Is the Lord’s patience exhausted?
   Are these his doings?
Do not my words do good
   to one who walks uprightly?
But you rise up against my people as an enemy;
   you strip the robe from the peaceful,
from those who pass by trustingly
   with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
   from their pleasant houses;
from their young children you take away
   my glory for ever.
Arise and go;
   for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
   with a grievous destruction.
If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods,
   saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink’,
   such a one would be the preacher for this people!

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob,
   I will gather the survivors of Israel;
I will set them together
   like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture;
   it will resound with people.
The one who breaks out will go up before them;
   they will break through and pass the gate,
   going out by it.
Their king will pass on before them,
   the Lord at their head.

Even before Thanksgiving, Christmas music has begun to dominate the airwaves and our algorithmic suggestions. Silent Night may be the special music in your congregation on Christmas Eve. Still, Paul McCartney’s, Wonderful Christmastime dominates  the soundtrack of your shopping and threatens your sanity whether or not you are simply having a wonderful Christmas time. Unsticking the heads and hearts ahead of the season often falls to the minister, who must remind their congregation that there is no way to wholly appreciate the light until you spend a little time in the darkness. 

Advent could be more catchy. The themes of Advent are dark. As this season of reflection and anticipation begins, ministers must counter the weight of consumerism’s assurances that all is well in the marketplace and all shall be made well by the market. Peace, Love, and Joy are all on sale for a limited time while supplies last. Before declaring the bright joy of Christmas morning, Advent invites a host of other emotions: anger, outrage, despair, and different shades of discontent that express the need for a savior. 

Into this darkness, our passage from Micah strikes an appropriately discordant note. 

Alas, for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it because it is in their power. They covet fields and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress householders and houses, people and their inheritance. Micah 2:1-2

Micah invites us to peer into the Night and recognize how the powerful are often willful in their schemes to accumulate more at the expense of those with the least. More than that, Micah calls for Preachers willing to note and name their actions. They plot, covet, seize, and oppress, leaving us to wonder if anything has yet to be commodified for a little more profit. Micah calls out the profound indifference of the powerful to the suffering they call. He rebukes those who defraud people of their homes and rob them of their inheritance, highlighting the destructive nature of greed. Micah calls proclaimers to rise and meet the prophetic challenge of speaking the truth to the powerful. 

What song evokes this kind of justice for you? 

For me, Americana music has always possessed an unusual moral arc. Advent and Americana find a unique harmony. Americana music is hard before it is hopeful and heavy before it is light. The genre, with its roots in folk, blues, country, and rock, has a unique moral arc that holds the tension of the sacred and the profane, the joy and the sorrow, without one denying the other. So, as an act of Advent musical therapy, I propose an Americana Advent Anthem that captures Micah’s prophetic critique of those who resist the preacher’s word from the Lord. 

Will Hoge’s “Gilded Walls” is a testament to this duality. It paints a vivid picture of the stark contrast between the privileged few and the struggling many, much like the passages in Micah’s prophecy.

Well, I guess you don’t need clean air to breathe
When you think you’ll be just fine
And the water that you’re drinkin’ from a Mitchigan sink
Inside your gilded walls that shine
And I work two jobs and raise a family
While you’re livin’ on everything your daddy left behind
And it’s clear you don’t care about the folks down here
Inside your gilded walls that shine
Oh and I don’t believe in the devil
But you might make me go and change my mind
You could see this whole damn world get leveled
And not even lose track of time
Inside your gilded walls that shine

As a devotional reflection, take a moment to read the passage and listen to the song. 

A world built by the powerful for the powerful needs to be broken and made new. Micah calls for preachers willing to endure all manner of adversity to speak such truth to our familiar devils in our midsts. Micah and Hoge’s songs offer critiques of injustice; they also hold a glimmer of hope. Micah’s prophecy suggests the possibility of redemption from the ruin, and Hoge’s song hints at the idea that even those living behind gilded walls may face redemption’s reckoning. 

Jake Hall

Jake Hall is Executive Director of United to End Homelessness at the United way of Central Georgia. A graduate of McAfee’s Doctor of Ministry Program, Jake served in pastoral ministry for twenty years, serving congregations in North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia.