St. Matthew 2:13-18 / Christmas 1 A
Epiphany Castle Rock / December 28, 2013
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I don’t know if they still show them now, but when I was a kid, December television was filled with Christmas specials and the plot line was always the same—someone or something is threatening to take away Christmas! Whether it was the Grinch stealing presents from under the Christmas trees in ‘Whoville’, or Santa’s sled grounded by bad weather at the North Pole, the plot for every holiday Christmas show was always about how we almost lost Christmas!
The so called ‘real world’ has its share of Christmas drama every year too. The annual parade of ‘anti-Christmas crusaders’ assemble each December to protest courthouse crèches and lighted stars in the public square. A few years ago even Target decided it was too offensive to public sensibilities, to allow Salvation Army Santas in front of their stores.
But as is often the case, the truth is scarier than any fiction we’re able to invent! Far worse than a Grinch, a snowstorm or even ‘political correctness’, King Herod in our Gospel reading today tries to steal the very first Christmas—for real! Just listen to the plot of this true life story:
“When Herod the King heard [from the wisemen that the King of the Jews had been born], he was troubled.” So pretending he wants to worship the new born King, Herod asks the wise men to go find the baby in Bethlehem and then return to Jerusalem with the address so Herod can visit the Holy Child—to kill Him! As the plot thickens, God stays one step ahead of Herod’s evil intentions and warns the wisemen in a dream not to return to Herod, but to return to their own country by another way. “Then Herod,” we read in verse 16, “when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or younger, according to the time he had learned from the wise men” (v. 16).
What a horrible, terrible story! Not everyone, it seems, rejoices with the angels the shepherds and the holy family as we did just a few nights ago when we sang, ‘Joy to the World! ‘The Lord has come, let earth receive her king!’ After the angels sweetly sing, ‘peace on earth, good will toward men’ this evil man responds to God’s gift of ‘peace and goodwill’ by murdering all the babies in the entire town where the Prince of Peace is born!
Our joyful and peaceful, ‘Silent night, holy night’ where all ‘is calm and all is bright’ is suddenly shattered by the wail of the ‘voice heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’ (cf. v18).
// When our Christmas joy is so rudely and abruptly interrupted by pure evil, by the violence of Herod’s brutal murders, at times like this, even the Christian may be tempted to ask, ‘How can a loving God allow this to happen?’ ‘How can a loving God allow this mad man to murder all these poor innocent babies?’
Well the short answer is, God allows it to happen so that He is able to save those same murdered babies. Although God is not the author of this evil. Even though God does not cause these children to die, God does nevertheless allow these innocent children to become the very first of many Christian martyrs who will die for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These babies all die, so that the baby Jesus will live. And not only so He will live, but so that Jesus will live to grow up and die on Calvary’s cross, the lamb without blemish, the sacrifice that takes away the sin, not just of the Bethlehem babies, but of the whole world!
Because of His great love for all people, God allows evil men like Herod to live, for a time at least, because He wants to give them every opportunity to repent and be saved. As the Apostle Peter writes in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promises … but He is longsuffering toward us because He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance!” (2 Pe 3.9). God’s desire to be merciful, to save sinners, includes even evil men like King Herod, Bashar al-Assad and even you and me. The only reason that Bashar al-Assad is alive today is because God is allowing him the opportunity to repent and be saved by the power of the Gospel which alone is the power of God unto salvation! (Ro 1.16).
So great is God’s mercy, that He allows King Herod to live for a time, even though King Herod hates God and King Herod hates God’s ‘Joy to the world’; the Good News that ‘unto us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2.11).
But God’s mercy doesn’t end with Herod. God’s mercy also extends to all those baby boys who were murdered in Bethlehem. By dying in Jesus’ place, these babies allowed Jesus to live, to teach, to perfectly keep God’s law, and eventually to die for the salvation of the whole world!
When someone asks you, ‘how can a loving God allow this or that to happen?’ You and I need to remember that the easy thing to do, the quick and relatively painless solution for God would be to destroy the whole world! When evil entered God’s perfectly good creation on that fateful day when Adam ate the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the easy solution would have been for God to just erase the whole thing. Wipe out the world, wipe out paradise, wipe out Adam and wipe out you and me.
Because He loves you, because He wants you to live with Him forever, God doesn’t choose the easy way. No! God chooses the way of love, which, when it comes to loving people like you and me, can be a very difficult choice to keep! But God keeps His promise! Rather than wiping you and me from the face of the earth, God allows His creation to live—even though we are living with the cancer of sin. God goes into action and He comes up with a plan that give you, me and even Herod a chance to live, while getting rid of the evil and sin that plagues God’s perfect creation.
“when the fullness of time had come,” we read in Galatians 4, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4.4-5).
That Son, Jesus, was hated by the evil Herod. Innocent babies were murdered in Jesus’ place because what Herod really wants to do, is to kill God. But in His mercy, God allows both Herod, and Jesus to live, so that the evil Herod would have a savior, the perfect Son of God who died not only for the evil King, but also for you and me on the cross so that whoever believes in Him will never perish but have everlasting life!
Far from being the author of evil. God turns man’s most evil intentions, man’s cruelest and most evil works and murders, into the mercy and salvation of God!
Eventually, the clock runs out on that evil old sinner, and King Herod dies, probably without ever coming to a saving faith in the baby he tried so hard to kill. But even though Herod is gone, there are others in every generation who rise up to take his place. Every generation, every tribe, every people and language have their God haters who try to kill Jesus.
‘But how?’ you ask. ‘How can these evil people try to kill Jesus now that He has ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father? (Cf. Heb 1.3).
That’s easy, they will try to kill you. Just as Herod killed all those innocent children in his attempt to kill Jesus, so too, the evil ones of this generation will try to kill Jesus by persecuting, harassing and yes, even murdering you who belong to Christ.
The Apostle Peter says it quite clearly in his first Epistle: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pe 4.12-13).
Many years ago on the day of your baptism you received the mark of the cross upon the forehead and upon the breast, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. On that day, that ‘mark of the cross’ made you a target for all those who hate God. And the brighter the light of Christ shines in you, the brighter, more visible target you become for the fiery arrows of the evil one and those who belong to him.
The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ lives in each of you baptized believers! And now today, even if you are martyred in some way, just as those innocents of Bethlehem were martyred, God will turn this to good also! God will turn your death into life when your confession of Jesus, the name for which you died, becomes the Gospel of salvation to those who persecute you and to all the world who hears your confession.
The Apostle Peter continues in his letter: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you … if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name … [therefore] let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Pe 4.14,16 & 19).
Be comforted beloved, even in the face of persecution. Because just as Herod never managed to stop Jesus by killing those babies, so too, no one in this generation will be able to stop the confession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by persecuting you or any other Christian!
Joy to the World! The Savior reigns! Peace on earth!
And lest you become too discouraged about those poor children in Bethlehem, let me read to you the rest of the quote, the part that St. Matthew left out of His Gospel because he figured you already knew the rest of the verse. When Matthew quotes Jeremiah’s passage about Rachel crying for her children because they are no more, the passage continues: “The Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. They will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, Your children will return to their own land’ declares the Lord” (from Jeremiah 31.15-17).
‘Their own land’ is none other than the heavenly Father’s kingdom! ‘Their own land’ is that heavenly country, that eternal paradise that St. Peter says you and I will rejoice in seeing when the glory of Christ is revealed!
God allows Herod to live because He loves him and wants him to repent and be saved—the same reason He allows you and me and all people to live. But God never allows Herod to be the ‘Grinch who stole Christmas’. God turns Herod’s evil and Adam’s sin into your salvation. You and I rejoice today, with those martyred babes of Bethlehem, because the Savior born to us this day in the city of David, is Christ the Lord. AMEN.
The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus! Amen.