The Birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-5)

The Birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-5)

Micah was one of the Twelve Prophets and possibly also a judge. He was active during the reign of three kings of Judah – Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (roughly 757-698 BC). He also lived at the same time as the prophet Isaiah – and even quoted a passage from his book (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3; Jeremiah 26:18-19).

Micah had a God-given sense of justice. He wasn’t afraid to criticise the people of Judah and northern Israel for their dishonesty, violence and exploitation of the poor (Micah 3:8-9; 6:9-12). Surrounded by injustice, he felt rather alone and unable to trust anyone other than God (7:1-7).

The prophet warned of the upcoming ruin of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of God’s people in Babylon (3:12; 4:10). But Micah also looked to the far future, predicting that the Jews would eventually return to the Holy Land and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (4:6-7; 7:11-12).

Part of his message for the time to come was about a righteous ruler who would lead a reunited Israel. As Pope St John Paul II explained: “The Book of the Prophet Micah announces the coming of a new king, after God’s heart. A king who will not try to display greatness and power, but who will rise from humble origins like David and, like him, will be wise and faithful to the Lord.”

The prophet wrote: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” (5:1-2)

Bethlehem is about five miles from Jerusalem and was King David’s hometown (1 Samuel 20:6). Based on this passage from Micah, people expected that the Messiah – who would be descended from David – to also come from this small town. After the arrival of the Magi, King Herod’s advisers shared this view (Matthew 2:1-6; cf John 7:40-42).

Reflecting on this text, the pope also noted: “This promised king will care for his people with the strength of God himself and will bring peace and security to the ends of the earth (cf. Micah 5:4). All these ancient promises will be fulfilled in the Child of Bethlehem.”

This mosaic of the Madonna and Child is a very special icon. It was a gift from Pope Benedict XVI to St Mary’s Seminary in Oscott, Birmingham. The pope donated the mosaic during his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 and it’s now found in the corridor leading to the college chapel.

The icon is a copy of a mosaic that St John Paul II had installed overlooking St Peter’s Square, following the attempt on his life there in 1981. The pope credited his survival to the Virgin Mary, so the icon in Rome – which itself is based on an earlier fresco – had a very personal meaning.

Experts from the Vatican Mosaic Studio produced this version of the image between December 2009 and April 2010. The artists worked with multi-coloured glass and gold to create this beautiful and striking mosaic. Entitled Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church), the image reflects the College’s own dedication to the Virgin Mary.

See the full image (with kind permission of St Mary’s College):

MaterEcclesiaeVatican Mosaic Studio / Mater Ecclesiae / Mosaic icon / 2010

Where to find this work of art
St Mary’s College, Oscott

Read the relevant passage
Micah 5:1-5

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