Christmas 2 | January 3, 2021 | Rev. James Preus | Matthew 2:13-23
“We resist evil with the ministry of Word and sword, and yet, the evils which cannot be averted we bear to our great advantage but to their detriment and destruction.”, wrote Martin Luther in meditation on our Gospel lesson. And indeed, our Gospel lesson teaches us how to resist and avoid evil and death with God’s word and sword, yet even more, how to put both evil and death to utter shame and destruction.
We have one Father in heaven. His authority it divided on earth into three estates, so that we have three types of earthly Fathers. First, the House Fathers, whom God gives authority over body and soul. Second, the Civil Fathers (Government), to whom God gives authority over the body, but not over the soul. And third, Ecclesiastical Fathers (Church), to whom God gives authority over the soul, but not over the body.
Of these three estates, the house father is above the others and the most important. First, because house fathers come first and the authority of the civil and ecclesiastical fathers passes through the house father. God first instituted fathers of families before he instituted either the Church or the Government. And both the Church and the Government get their authority from God through the family.
Secondly, A house father is a more intimate relationship. Unless the house father take care of the body of his wife and children, the provision and protection of the civil father, that is, of the government will be insufficient and tyrannical. Unless the house father care for the soul of his wife and children, the spiritual care of the ecclesiastical father, that is, of the church will be hindered and stifled.
Thirdly, the authority and responsibility of the house father is broader, covering both body and soul. God gives the government a sword and says, “Protect the weak and punish those who do wrong. Curb evil with all your might, so that the people may live in peace, be clothed and fed.” Yet, God gives the government no responsibility over the souls of those it governs. Neither does God give the government power to grant eternal life.
God gives the church His Word, that is, the Bible and with it the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, and says, “Preach and teach. Save the souls of these people with the words I give you. Baptize them into Christ, so that I might make them my sons and heirs. Feed them the precious body and blood of Christ, so that they may forever be united to Christ and to each other. With words, prepare them to enter through the gates of heaven. And when persecution comes, accept your death with faith in Christ’s eternal life.” Because God gives the Church no sword in her hand.
Yet, to house fathers God gives both the ministry of the sword and the ministry of his Word. God puts a sword in the father’s hand and says, “Take this sword, and shovel, and hammer, and plow, and whatever tool you may need. Work, so that by the sweat of your brow not only you may eat, but your wife and children as well. Work those fingers to the bone, so that your family may be clothed and fed. And defend them with might, even lay down your life for theirs.” Yet, in the other hand God places the Holy Scriptures and says, “Though you work till the sweat of your brow run dry and those fingers are worn to the bone, though you lay down your life to preserve the life of your wife and children, know that death will still come to them. There is nothing you can do with your might that will make them live forever. So here, I give you my words, so that when death comes, he may be put to shame by you, by your wife and children. So, bring your children to be Baptized, and teach them my word each and every day. Teach them to pray, to ask for forgiveness and to give it, bring them to church to hear God’s holy Word, and be the mouth of Jesus at home. When you lie down, when you rise, when you walk by the way and sit in your home, provide, strengthen, and protect your wife and children with my Holy Word.
As the Virgin Mary is a wonderful example to all Christian mothers of pious humility and faithfulness, who meekly accepts the will of the Lord and does mighty works without pomp and circumstance, so is Joseph a wonderful godly example of faith and good works for us Christian fathers. As the heavenly Father entrusted to Joseph the care of his only begotten Son, to be his foster father and guardian here on earth, so our heavenly father entrusts us Christian fathers with his own children, whom he has caused to be born from above through water and the Spirit. Through Joseph we learn to protect our children from evil through the ministry of the sword and Word, yet even more, we prepare them to conquer death and destruction and to put those imposters to shame through Jesus Christ.
Because St. Matthew is the only contemporary historian to report Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem, many modern historical critics deny that this massacre ever happened. Yet, this assumption is flawed for a number of reasons. First, St. Matthew wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so he is more reliable than assumptions made by the silence of other authors. Secondly, the death toll of baby boys two years old and under from that little hamlet Bethlehem and its surrounding region probably only added up to one or two dozen victims. So, it is not that surprising that this event was missed by early historians, who recorded many other barbaric events around the same time.
Yet, it shouldn’t surprise us that this event was ignored by the pagan world. Today in our country around three thousand unborn babies are murdered in the womb every day, over a million each year, and almost no one takes notice of them There are no news reports about them or death toll tallies on the bottom right screen of your television. But such silence does not make the crime disappear or any less horrid. Abortion is worse than you think. Even if you have not personally had an abortion or are personally opposed to it, all of us should be ashamed for what our country has done. If God was able to destroy the mighty empires of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians on account of their wickedness, and if he did not spare his chosen nation Israel from destruction on account of her wickedness, we should not think that America is beyond God’s judgment and righteous punishment. We should pray that our nation repents from this sin and pray for leaders who will oppose this wicked crime. And we certainly should not support Herods, who openly defend the killing of these children.
And although the slaughter of holy innocents took fewer lives than you might have expected, this does not make this any less of an evil. The slaughter of these innocent children was a worse crime than even our bleeding hearts can know. And yet, although the historians all ignored the cries of Rachel for her children, God heard the cries of these children’s blood, praying for justice out of the ground. King Herod suffered a much worse fate than those poor children of Bethlehem.
And so, we learn why God permitted this awful episode to take place, so that we see his only begotten Son flee to Egypt and the innocent children of Bethlehem murdered.
First, this took place to fulfill the prophecies of Scripture and so prove that Jesus is in deed the Christ and redeemer of the world. Secondly, we see that even as a baby, our Lord Jesus suffered persecution and danger for our sake. Thirdly, we learn that when we suffer persecution as Christians, we always follow our dear Lord in this suffering, and so we are blessed. And finally, we learn that there is something worse than death and that those who die for Christ’s sake are infinitely blessed.
And this is a good lesson for us Christian fathers to learn as we seek to follow the example of Joseph. As we work to provide for our families, to feed, clothe, and find shelter for our children, as Joseph did for his young wife and baby Jesus; as we seek to protect them from danger, as Joseph did by fleeing to Egypt and then to Nazareth, we will learn that we cannot perfectly protect them from evil and death. And although it is our God-given duty to protect them from evil and death, we do not get to choose when these foes will overwhelm our greatest defenses. And, so it is our primary duty as Christian fathers to prepare our families to face every evil, persecution, and death and come out victorious.
How is this done? Only through faith in Jesus Christ. As we have seen, Jesus was still a swaddled infant when persecution came to destroy him. And so, we see that there is not cross we bear in life on account of Christ that he has not born for us first. This is why St. Peter says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” We are blessed forever when persecution falls upon us, because we join the blessed company of Christ. And when the enemies of Christ attack Christians, whether with words or fists, they harm themselves much more than they do the Christians they seek to hurt.
Likewise, in Christ Jesus your children are impervious to death. When Jesus was crucified, death came to devour him. Yet, death only has authority to devour sinners. Jesus had not sin of his own, but rather bore the sins of the world. So, when death devoured Christ, he went beyond his office. The devourer was devoured, or as Martin Luther paraphrases St. Paul, Death is swallowed up by death (Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands, LSB 458:4). This is why Jesus rose again from the dead. Death had no authority to keep him bound.
Now, in Christ Jesus, all your sins are taken away. Jesus has put them away forever in his death. So, when death comes for you to devour you, he again goes beyond his office. He has nor right to keep you, because death only has authority to take sinners. But if your sins are taken away by Christ, then you are not a sinner! And so, when death comes to kill you, he is put to shame. Your death destroys death and you inherit eternal life through Jesus!
And so, you fathers learn well, that the Book God places in your right hand is much more helpful than the sword or shovel or hammer that he places in your left. Despite your best efforts, despite being the best dad you can be, you cannot keep your children alive forever. Yet, by the Word God gives you, you can equip your children to conquer death and put Satan and death to shame. Temptation must come. Satan will roar. Death will rear his ugly head. Yet, when your children bear the name of Christian, these enemies are destroyed by them. Then your children are blessed forever.
May God raise up for us good fathers like Joseph, who will sweat and run and work to keep their children clothed and fed, yet much more, will employ the Word of God to clothe them in Christ, so that these children will overcome every evil and be God’s children forever. Amen.