The Holy Innocents
December 29, 2002
The celebration of Christmas among Christians has
become so intertwined with the celebration of Christmas among pagans
that it is almost impossible to disentangle these mutually contradictory
celebrations. We celebrate
the most joyous event imaginable: God joins us sinners as one of us in
order to bring us back to Himself to enjoy His love forever and ever.
The world celebrates a Christmas that only seems to last forever.
It begins in late November and has now, mercifully, just ended.
I am not really sure what the purpose of the secular Christmas
is. It might be to provide a boost to the economy by a frenzy of
junk buying. Well, that’s
fine. There’s nothing
wrong with providing a little energy to a bear market.
After all, we’d rather be self-sufficient when we’re old so
the children won’t have to worry too much about our welfare.
But even if the market falls and our pensions are
irretrievably lost, I am sure we’d all rather have our children than
our money. Aren’t the
fruit of the womb more valuable than the fruit of our labors?
Surely the little ones God gives to us are signs of a love much
deeper than any Christmas gift bought by money or even crafted by skill,
time, and tender care. Forgive
me for being personal from the pulpit, but I must share with you what a
joy it was for me to see every single one of my children during this
holy season. While my wife
doesn’t like to be called Dorothy, she most certainly is Dorothy, that
is, a “gift of God,” and so is every one of the children God has
given to us.
They cost money.
They wreck things you really like.
They bring you heartache when they are little and after they are
grown. They complicate your
life to where you cannot imagine life without them, though you think
perhaps that now and then a little break from parenthood wouldn’t be a
bad idea. Somehow we learn
that as much as we cherish and value our children, their value doesn’t
come from us, but from God. We
love them, care for them, pray for them, yearn for their safe return
when they are away, and thank God for keeping them safe.
Yet they don’t belong to us as if they are our possessions.
They belong to God.
We bring them to God when they are little and He
makes them His own. By
means of Holy Baptism, God places His own name on our children and He
makes them Christians. Now,
of course, He could easily make them into Christians without baptism.
God is almighty. He
could if He so chose raise up children from the rocks of the ground, as
St. John the Baptist once said. Baptism
is not necessary for God. It
is necessary for us because God has joined His own honor, authority, and
almighty power to save sinners to the washing of Holy Baptism.
When we bring our babies to God, trusting in His willingness and
ability to keep them safe in His grace, we are also confessing that
these children belong to Him.
And how He loves them!
You and I cannot imagine how much God loves them.
If God did not love the babies, why would He choose to become a
baby? If God did not love
the babies, then why did Jesus say to his disciples, “Let the little
children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom
of God”? (Mark 10:14) Nothing
God could have said would have more powerfully declared His love to the
world than the incarnation of His eternal Son.
The fact that God the Son became a little baby within the
Virgin’s womb is more than a wonderful mystery of our holy Christian
faith. It is a public declaration to the entire human race that our
God loves the little children. Why
else would He have become one?
blessed Lord and Maker hated men would He then be of flesh partaker?
Since it is manifestly true that God loves the
little children, it is also appropriate that God’s church should
observe the feast of the Holy Innocents.
On this day we hear of how an evil King murdered many innocent
little children in his mad designs to destroy the newborn King of the
Jews. Herod’s irrational
jealousy led to the slaughter of every male child under two years old in
the vicinity of Bethlehem. Herod wanted to take no chances in eliminating any threat to
his own power. Another king
was simply unacceptable. And
it wasn’t just an idle rumor. The
Wise Men had come to Jerusalem in search of what the Bible had promised. King Herod cared little about biblical teaching, but he cared
much about political power. He
falsely assumed that the promised Christ would be a political threat.
He refused to tolerate such a thing and ordered as many children
murdered as would ensure the destruction of this potential rival.
God did not stay Herod’s hand. He rather intervened only to save the Christ.
The holy innocents were murdered. The
Holy Innocent was spared. He
was spared only for the moment. First,
He had to go to Egypt and remain there in the land where Israel had
languished as slaves. Then
God would call His Son out of Egypt, even as He had called Israel out of
Egypt centuries before. Just
as Israel was called out of Egypt to serve God in the Promised Land,
Christ was called out to Egypt to serve God in holiness all the way to
the cross. By that holy
living and innocent suffering He would purchase for all people that
Promised Land where no murder or death can ever enter.
God hates murder.
How can He not hate murder when He is love? We cannot understand the slaughter of the innocents.
We turn our faces away in horror.
We can’t bear to listen to Rachel’s bitter cry as she screams
out her sorrow and refuses to be comforted by anyone.
Her children are no more. They
are gone. She’s a mother, so she mourns.
Can you imagine anything more devastating?
But there is something even worse. You don’t have to imagine.
Just open your eyes to the carnage right here in our own
homeland. Herod murdered
perhaps a few dozen children because he thought that one of them stood
in the way of his political power.
There is among us in America a political force that murders
literally millions of babies and defies us to oppose them.
They call themselves “pro-choice” because they know that the
word “choice” is a word that resonates in the hearts of freedom
loving Americans who believe in everyone’s right to choose.
But the babies have no choice as they are systematically
butchered in their mothers’ wombs.
They are cut into pieces. They
are injected with poison. They
are tossed away in the trash. Those
who promote and defend this slaughter are afraid of Christ’s church.
And so they demonize Christians, as if the Christians who seek to
protect the innocent from slaughter are the real enemy.
Even as Herod in his evil madness imputed to the baby Jesus false
designs on his power, today’s killers of the unborn impute to
Christ’s church false designs on their power.
We Christians don’t want to take away anyone’s legitimate
right to choose. We don’t want to lay any legal or financial burden on
anyone. But we cannot honor
our Lord Jesus Christ who came into this world as a little Baby if we do
not speak out in defense of the babies being destroyed today by means of
legal abortion. When Rachel
was pouring out her heart in anguish over the destruction of her
children, there was nevertheless hope lying underneath her sorrow.
Where is the hope for Rachel when she pays an abortionist to kill
her children before they are born?
Where is the hope for a nation that defends such slaughter as a
matter of the right to choose?
I used to believe that the greatest argument
against abortion was the argument of natural law.
I reasoned that anyone with a conscience could see that killing
unborn babies should be a crime. I
no longer believe that the argument of natural law will work in America.
We are far too callused for that.
Our national conscience has been seared.
It feels no pain. Rachel
isn’t crying anymore. She’s
on national television defending murder.
Herod runs for public office and gets elected.
Americans care more about acquiring more things than they do in
defending and protecting innocent human life.
The greatest argument against abortion cannot be
made by an appeal to an erring conscience.
The greatest pro-life argument is the incarnation of the Son of
God. When God the Son chose
to become bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh within the Virgin
Mary’s womb, God affirmed the value of human life in a manner more
emphatic than the most vocal protests could ever be.
God became a baby. So
watch how you treat the babies! Jesus
warned about offending one of the little ones who believed in Him.
Herod came to no good end. Those
who seek political power at the expense of the precious lives of these
little ones will face a judgment too terrible to contemplate.
God loves the babies. Woe
to those who defend their murderers!
We must pray that these people repent before it is too late.
God is merciful even to those who have killed the unborn, but
there is no hope for those who will not repent.
For them there is only the endless sorrow of unforgiven sins.
But Jesus came into this world to save sinners.
This is why he became a man-child in His mother’s womb.
And there is no greater vocation than that of providing nurture
and care to the little children. When
the Christian mother gives herself to the task of caring for her
children, she gives a service to God that is incomparable.
For it is not to her child alone that her services are offered,
but to the Christ Child Himself. By
joining Himself to our flesh and blood within His mother’s womb, He
has sanctified the vocation of Christian motherhood and He has done so
permanently, that is, until the end of time.
We honor this holy vocation in our day when we insist on
virginity before marriage, fidelity within marriage, and bringing our
children to Christ by having them baptized and by teaching them God’s
word and bringing them to church.
Herod’s murder was motivated by fear.
He thought that the Christ Child would take away from him what he
treasured the most. But
Jesus was intent only on taking away sin. Remember that. Don’t
be afraid of this Jesus. When
you must admit that your sins bring down on you God’s just anger and
that you must number yourself among such sinners as Herod, remember that
Jesus came into the world to save you.
He joined Himself to your sinful flesh and blood so that by his
innocence, your guilt would be forever washed away.
He does not come to deprive you of your freedom, but to restore
it. If God wanted to do us harm He would not have joined the
human race. Since He has so
joined us, we will regard all of His children as precious, especially
the weakest and smallest. In
so doing we will honor the Son of God who was called out of Egypt to set
us free. The service we
offer to His children we offer to Him.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus