last edited: Mon, 21 Jan 2019 13:34:14 -0500
Immediately after our celebration of the birth of our Savior, we realize the bloody mess of a world into which He was born.
***NOTE: A sermon is an oral proclamation intended to be heard. The following manuscript served as the primary content but was altered during delivery in some areas.
GRACE, MERCY and PEACE are YOURS this day from GOD our FATHER through our LORD and SAVIOR, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Thus says the Lord, “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
In the NAME of JESUS. AMEN.
You may notice that since Christmas Day, the sanctuary has been redecorated. Did you see it? On Christmas, the altar frontal and the one here on the pulpit were white. And, you'll note, this morning they are red.
No – it isn't that I thought that the red looked better with the green or that I was trying to make things more festive.
These colors have meaning. White – is not because I wished for a white Christmas – but because the color white represents purity and holiness – in this case, the purity and holiness of the baby born in Bethlehem.
On Christmas day – with the most important furniture in the church decked out in white, we hear St. John say, “we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And the very next day, the color changes. On December 26th, the Church comes to grips with the reality of what it means that Christ entered the world – that He called men (and women, and children) to Himself to bear His name in this world – A world which neither knows him nor loves Him – but would sooner see him and all who belong to him dead and bleeding out in the streets. This is why the color of the Feast of St. Stephen is red. The color of martyrs. Also the color used on Pentecost – representing the fire that burns brightly within each Christian as they are filled with the Holy Spirit and faith and are unable to back down and shrink back even in the face of opposition.
On December 27th, the Church remembers St. John the Divine – the Apostle of Christ – who men tried to kill but were unable. As legend tells, the emperor Domition condemned the Apostle and Evangelist to die by being boiled in a culdron of boiling oil for refusing to renounce his faith. And yet, He is rescued through the ordeal by God's omnipotent hand. And because John died a natural death and not by the will of those who hated him, the blessed Apostle's day is marked with white, once again, the color of saints.
And then comes December 28th, and the cold reality of the world's hatred of God and the rejection of His love as the church recalls the martyrdom of all the male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem – with Christ alone escaping because of the dream given to Jesus' guardian, Joseph, telling him to whisk the child and his mother Mary to Egypt to be safe from Herod's rage.
I commemoration of this event, the church is decked out in red today – a stark reminder of the cold cruelty of the world that opposes in every way possible the light of men which shines in the darkness.
In our Gospel text for today, St. Matthew recounts how God had sent an angel to Joseph, “Rise and take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” Certainly this was to protect and preserve the Child – as well as a means by which God would fulfill His Word spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
But we see most clearly that the existence of Jesus in a place has consequences – real, earthly consequences – and all too often, they appear to our human eyes as tragedy – they bring with them heart ache and pain and suffering.
“WHY GOD?!” becomes the question. What did these small tiny baby boys do to deserve Herod's sword? Why is God punishing them for being there – at the wrong place at the wrong time?
It's tempting to ask such questions and insist on an answer. It's tempting to put God to the test, as Job did, and declare that our ethical understanding of the world imposes some limits on God.
Perhaps it is the name that we give to the day itself that leads us in the wrong direction. Highlight the day as a remembrance of the Holy Innocents, martyrs. And in our worldly thinking, we look upon the fact that they have not yet learned how to steal or murder – that they are incapable of doing the actions required to break the 10 commandments and we are tempted to believe that they are innocent in the eyes of God.
But this is not the case. “In sin did my mother conceive me,” says King David in the Psalm. These children, likewise, born of human parents – born of blood and the will of the flesh and of the will of man – inherited that dreaded disease and so were infected with sin just like every other human child – excepting Jesus only.
The wages of sin is death, says the Apostle. And God is not unjust in carrying out that sentence upon them – just because they couldn't yet act out of their sinful hearts in a way we would recognize.
And yet, these were children of promise. If their fathers were faithful, they had their sons marked in the flesh as God's beloved children saved and rescued by the God who called Abraham out of UR of the Chaldees and promised blessing upon blessing to all of his descendants according to the flesh. Circumcised on the 8th day, these tiny baby boys were marked as inheritors of that promise – the promise of God's love and mercy that pointed forward to the coming of Jesus – who in His flesh bestowed God's blessing upon all mankind.
We see in this how God was not punishing these children – even in the premature end to their lives. Just as God is not punishing any child baptized into Him. This is why the Apostle Peter teaches, “BAPTISM now saves you.” It is your connection to God's mercy and love and forgiveness that you carry with you. Though unseen, it is God's indelible mark upon you – just as it is God's indelible mark upon your baptized child. It is a mark that is seen by the Angels in heaven – and does exactly as we describe as the pastor traces the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart – marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.
In our modern age, it is impossible to read this account of Herod's slaughter of these baby boys and not consider the ongoing slaughter of the unborn. There are many things in God's Word that speak against the horrific practice of intentionally ending a child's life before they exit the womb. And some attempt to find comfort in the fact that the church speaks of the Holy Innocents murdered by Herod. They try to convince themselves that the unborn child is innocent of sin and so must be whisked away to heaven.
But neither the Scriptures generally nor this text specifically give us such assurance. In fact – both speak against such an understanding. While they are innocent of outward and gross sins, they are still conceived of sinful stock. The poison of sin courses through their veins, inherited as it is from Adam and Eve according to fleshly conception.
But - before they can be brought to the waters of baptism – where God would reach down and touch them with His love and grace and mercy, the practice of abortion stills their beating heart – and ends their earthly life.
It is one thing in the case of a spontaneous miscarriage or other unexpected premature termination of a pregnancy to trust and rely upon the grace and mercy of God. It is one thing to hope that such a child would be welcomed into the arms of Jesus even though they are sinners who would never have the opportunity to be brought to those holy waters of baptism.
It is one thing to look at how God gave the Holy Spirit to John the Baptist – so that he recognized the voice of His savior's mother even at only 5 months after conception – and hope that God will likewise graciously visit the unborn child who is brought to church and hears the word while still in the womb and trust that God's Word is, indeed, sufficient and lay hold of that promise – even as we can look to the loss of David's first son of his unlawful relationship with Bathsheba and have hope when we hear David lament, “I will go to him, but he will never come to me,” trusting that God saved his son before the blessing of circumcision.
But it is another thing entirely to participate in, condone and accept the idea that it is OK to bring about that premature end.
To intentionally cut short the life of a child before it exits the womb, is to intentionally cut that child off from God and His promises.
It is to actively desire that the child has as little chance as possible to be rescued and saved by a God who loves him or her so much that He entered into our world to take their sin upon Himself.
Abortion makes it impossible for that child to be connected to God through the means of Baptism. – The means which God Himself appointed as the way that He WILL be active in a person's life to rescue and redeem and save through Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
We see then, that those who prematurely end a child's life before they have the opportunity to be baptized or who gives approval, aid, or assistance in such an act shakes their fist at heaven in the same way that Herod shook His fist at heaven by attempting to slaughter the Christchild.
Indeed, It is good and right that we in the church pray for God's mercy and grace, we beg and plead with Him to be gracious and not visit the sins of the parents and doctors and society against these dear children. Even as we hope in his promises to be gracious and merciful.
But we must not allow such hope to blind us to the reality of how dark and cruel our world is. This is but one example of the devil in this world who by his lies and trickery has deceived so many to accept and give into evil. It is only one mechanism by which the devil seeks to devour those whom God desires to save and rescue.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, we live and move in the world as it is described in Revelation 12 – with the great dragon seeking the destruction of Christ and His Church.
The failed when he convinced Herod to wage war on the child and come after him with the sword to kill him before He had time to finish his work.
And in the midst of that battle, Herod shed innocent blood. We say “Innocent” not because they were sinless, but because they had done no wrong to Herod. They were no threat to Herod or his rule. They simply were born at the wrong time. They were in the wrong place. Having received God's promises through God's gift of circumcision given to the descendants of Abraham, the suffering of those baby boys and the suffering of their parents at their death was suffering brought about by the ongoing war that Satan wages on earth against God and His elect. But they died martyrs – because they died having received God's promises and in their flesh they confessed their faith in their savior through the gift of circumcision.
But on that day as the devil through Herod sought to destroy the hope of the nations, he failed. God caused Jesus to be whisked away in to Egypt, then to return to Nazareth, and though the devil would seek to derail Him, God raised Jesus from the dead – He ascended into heaven and rules and reigns over his Church.
And though the devil continues to wage war – and fight – Even as the devil continues to cause society and the world around us to rage and rail His believers because of our connection in Jesus, we need not fear or weep – not for ourselves – and not for our children.
Hear the promise of God – spoken through the pen of the man boiled in oil and yet still lived to have the Lord's visions revealed to Him through visions so that we may know clearly this world in which we live: “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished.”
The devil continues to stir up society and the world to reap utter destruction of God's little band of Christians on earth. He uses every means possible to destroy us just as Herod sought to destroy Christ by the sword.
Therefore we will continue to see injustice. We will continue to see the out flowing of history rip from us those we love as the devil snarls and snaps at us seeking to shake our faith and lead us away from the hope and promises of Christ.
It will be evident in illnesses such as cancer or debilitating neruological disorders, accidents of all kinds, even wars and natural calamity. We will be tempted to ask why God allows such calamity to happen to those who have not done anything in this life to deserve to be punished in such a way.
We will be tempted to weep bitterly and lament as Rachel wept for her children and refused to be comforted.
But thus says the Lord: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
These words were spoken to the Children of Israel as they were taken into captivity into Babylon where most of them would die separated from the Lord's promised land, just as so many Christians have died before the coming of the Lord. And they are given to us as a comfort – to bring us peace in the midst of our troubled world.
Though the war is not over, our victory as Christians has been assured. All who are baptized into Christ have the promise given to them individually and personally. God has chosen YOU as His own beloved child – Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born again of God – born again from above by Water and the Word as He has marked you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.
And again, the promise of our reading in Revelation is that God has prepared in the wilderness of this world a place where He nourishes us. In other words, He gathers us HERE, in this place – the Church – where He feeds us with His body and His blood – where he pours the soothing oil of His grace upon our wounds and comforts us in our suffering by delivering the forgiveness of our sins – and where he reminds us of our adoption as His children when he reached down to us in the waters of our baptism to claim us as His own.
As those baptized into Christ, if we die before Christ's return, we will find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with those who were slaughtered by Herod – and St. Stephen who was stoned for his testimony of Christ – and all the Apostles – even St. John – along with all those from every tribe and nation who are brought out of this great tribulation and even now stand before the throne with palm branches in their hands declaring, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb”. And at the return of Jesus, we will be brought back to our own country – the new heavens and the new earth – in the splendor and glory of God's good and perfect creation where we shall dwell with Him forever.
GRANT THIS LORD UNTO US ALL - in the NAME and for the SAKE of Jesus. AMEN.