Friday, January 2, 2009

Sermon: Holy Innocents

Dec. 28, 2008

Zion Lutheran Church

Lahoma, OK

Holy Innocents

Matthew 2: 13-18

Just as the angels proclaimed at the birth of Jesus, peace be to you. Amen.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary And was made man. These are the words of the Nicene Creed. Often we don’t think of it, but this is our year-round confession of Christmas. Yes, by this we confess our Christmas in July, or June, or whatever other month we speak it. But, at this time of the year we especially reflect upon what the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ means to us for each month of the year and for our entire life. Today, Saint Matthew tells us of the toddler Jesus’ flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, those helpless children in Bethlehem murdered by Herod. From these texts we’ll look at what it means that the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, has come into this world, and what that means for the Christian life.

So, in our Gospel reading, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Imagine the surprise of Joseph! It’s not exactly a common thing for someone to be visited by an angel once, but a second time. Wow. That’s something. The first visit God had told him that he would be the step-dad of God incarnate. This second visit was not an angelic “Gloria in Excelsis” follow-up visit. God had sent an angel to warn Joseph against a plot against the Son of God, to destroy the savior of all mankind. The angel said to Joseph, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” Take the child and flee to Egypt Joseph, God will protect you and Mary and most importantly the little tyke learning how to talk and eat solid food. God will protect you from Herod who would take your son’s life. God will protect you.

And this is not something new that God has been doing. He has been protecting his promise of salvation through the Messiah from the very beginning. He preserved the promise through Adam’s son Seth despite the death of Abel and the exile of Cain. He preserved the Israelites and His Word by taking them from out of Egypt and the despair of the desert. He preserved David, the promised line of the Messiah, always from the hands of his enemies, and he preserved the exiles through their Babylonian captivity by His steadfast Word. And he hasn’t stopped doing this today. He takes care of you always keeping his promise of salvation presently before you. By His Word he preserves you in the faith just as he has preserved every person of God through history. And he gives you his Sacraments to hold you steadfast in the faith and strengthen you in faith toward Him and love toward your neighbor.

And for that reason did God did preserve his promised savior, his son. He saved the Messiah that all might one day live again with Him in Paradise. Unfortunately, this only tells half the story. For the second half of the Gospel reading goes like this: “Then Herod…sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” Too often when we hear this text we wonder - how could Herod do such an awful thing? Too little do we think of those whom Herod hurt. Yes the children were murdered, but they also had parents. Think of how they must have felt. Grief, Pain, Suffering. The murder of a child, that’s something no parent wants to live through. Now, These men and women in and around Bethlehem were faithful people of God. They believed in the Messiah. Yet, despite that, the children were still murdered. Why couldn’t God have warned them to flee with their children? Why couldn’t God have saved these faithful little ones of God, as he had saved Jesus?

This is a question that many of us would ask today if this tragedy had befallen us. In fact, we often do, if only for different circumstances. We question God. We wonder why he has let any tragedy come upon us. Crop failure, losing a job, losing a house, losing a friend, or a child or a spouse. We wonder how could God allow such infliction to come upon his people? Now rightly, we don’t know the answer to that question. But we can know that all things happen for our good, even our suffering is to strengthen our faith in Him. It is our sinful flesh that would have us think otherwise. It is our sinful nature that would reel against God saying, “I don’t deserve this!” Our sinful flesh wants to blame God for our suffering. However, we fail to look that it’s our own sin that truly condemns us and is the reason why we are even subjected to suffering in the first place. We shouldn’t blame God, it’s sinful and it plays right into the plans of one who has wanted to thwart God’s plan to save us from the very beginning.

For you see, just as God was faithfully at work protecting his people throughout the history of the world in order that he might save them, Satan was equally at work trying to destroy God’s plan of salvation. Was Satan not the one at work in Cain when he killed his brother? Was Satan not also present at Mt. Sinai leading the Israelites into the worship of the golden calf at the same time God was present with them at that very same mountain. And considering that God had told Satan that the Messiah would be born of a woman, do you really think that it’s a coincidence that the worshippers of Baal sacrificed their children to this false God? No, Satan has been working and trying his darndest to destroy the Messiah and to drive people away from God’s promise of salvation.

But, God is faithful to his people. He has cared for them throughout all generations – from generation to generation. This is why he had to preserve his Son at this moment of Jesus’ life. He had to preserve his life now, so that Jesus could give up his life later. He had to preserve his Son’s life now so that Jesus could take on the sins of the world and go to the cross to perish on our behalf. And throughout Christ’s life he battled Satan. God fought against the evil one from Herod’s attempt on Christ’s life, to the temptation in the desert, to the cross. And in Christ’s death, Satan was defeated. Your sins which gave Satan claim over you were paid for. You were and now are forgiven. You are Christ’s own and nothing can rip you from his merciful and mighty hand.

And take Christ’s death on the cross as assurance that God has won the battle against sin and temptation for you. He has defeated all evil things in this world. But, take also this text for today as a marker for the Christian life. Wherever the Gospel is there Satan will be there also trying to defeat it. Wherever there are faithful Christians being sustained by God himself, there Satan will be trying with all his might to tear Christians away from God. Satan will bring disaster and suffering to you. He will bring temptations to you and distraction from God’s Word to drive you away from the source of all comfort. Because you are a Christian this will happen.

But you don’t need to ask the question – why did God let this happen? For you are assured that before any tragedy ever hurts you, God, through Christ Jesus, already holds you in his care and has a plan that you might be strengthened because of it. And this plan, is one where he feeds you and nourishes you through His very life giving Word. This plan is one where he takes you under His mighty care, day in and day out, because you are baptized. This plan is one where he gives you his very body and blood to forgive your sins and comfort you with His own self. By the Lord Jesus Christ, know that you are forever in his loving care. He will comfort you throughout your Christian life of suffering and sorrow. Amen and Amen!