The Second Sunday after Christmas| January 4, 2009| Matthew 2:13-23| Rev. Rolf Preus
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” St. Matthew 2, 13
When the true Light came into the world, the powers of darkness were exposed. St. John put it this way. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5) Good and evil are not just two ideas. Good and evil can be recognized clearly for what they really are. The pathetic condition of our nation and our culture is seen in the rather obvious fact that fewer and fewer people know the difference between good and evil. God makes it plain to us.
Jesus, the King of the Jews, is good. Herod, the king of the Jews, is evil. Jesus’ kingdom was a kingdom given to him by God the Father. Herod won his kingdom by murder, threats, and bribery. Jesus’ kingdom was a kingdom of grace and peace in which the sinner could find forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Herod’s kingdom was one of lawless brutality and mass murder. Herod depended on the power of brute force. Jesus hid his almighty power under the humble clothing of his infant humanity. The contest between these two kings of the Jews was well described a thousand years earlier by David, the Psalmist.
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Christ, saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. The LORD shall hold them in derision. Then he shall speak to them in his wrath, and distress them in his deep displeasure: “Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion.” “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’” Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in him. (Psalm 2)
Appearances can be deceiving. The little baby who was taken away by Joseph into Egypt because of an angelic warning in a dream appears to be quite helpless. But he is not. He is the eternally begotten Son of the Father. He is the Lord of all the nations. He holds a rod of iron and he will destroy every nation that doesn’t bow before him. Herod died a miserable failure of a man. His achievements as king – which were notable – will forever be shadowed by his murder of the innocents in the region of Bethlehem. Herod was the first king to stand against Jesus, but not the last. Those earthly kings who oppose Jesus pattern themselves, whether they know it or not, after King Herod, the so-called king of the Jews. And their end is the same.
Name a kingdom that existed when Jesus was born that still exists today. Name an empire that hasn’t turned to dust. The high and mighty of Jesus’ day are now nothing more than names for children to learn in school. So impressive and powerful and wealthy! Herod had the approval of the officials at Rome. That was no mean feat. And it ensured his power. But who were those Roman officials? Surely, they had names. No one knows anymore. No one cares. Even the great Roman Empire is no more than a dim memory. Meanwhile the kingdom of Jesus Christ stands. Psalm 2 is being fulfilled as time marches by. The kings of this world are destroyed, while the Infant of Bethlehem continues to reign.
Not all earthly kings have set themselves against the LORD and his Christ. There is an unfortunate myth popular among many Christians that service in the government automatically makes one corrupt and suspect. This is not true. It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament two significant men about whom the Bible records no criticism were both civil servants: Joseph and Daniel. They had political power. They had the trust and the goodwill of rulers who weren’t believers, but who came to acknowledge the God of Israel on account of their pious lives. On the other hand, it is sad but true that most political rulers have not been particularly good and pious men. It is also true that God’s warning remains true: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.” It was to Abraham that God gave the promise: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3) Of course, to bless Abraham is to bless his seed and his Savior, Jesus. God has blessed those nations who have kissed the Son. Those nations who have mistreated Christ and his Church have suffered for it. God judges. And he judges in time, not just at the end of time.
If the United States had to choose between the two kings of the Jews, which one would they choose? Jesus or Herod? We have heard America described as a Christian nation. On a given Sunday, how many Americans are gathered together to hear the gospel of the forgiveness of sins freely given by God for the sake of Jesus’ suffering and death? So, then, where are they? What do they hear? What do they confess? What do they believe?
We have heard America described as a Christian nation. Where is Rachel? Why is she not raising her voice in Ramah, crying over the loss of her baby? I’ll tell you why not. Because she has the right to kill her own children and to shed no tears for them at all. Because it is her alleged constitutional right as an American to sacrifice her unborn child on the Altar of today’s Moloch, a vicious god of ancient times reanimated in a secular creed of hatred against Jesus Christ and his holy reign on earth, that is, his holy Christian Church.
Make no mistake about it. The doctrine that a woman has the right to do what she chooses with the fruit of her womb is a direct attack on God and on his Christ. Politicians of whatever political party or persuasion who favor the so-called “right” of a woman to have an abortion have joined sides with Herod against Jesus. Jesus is for life. Herod is for death. Jesus became a little baby. Herod murdered the little babies. Jesus loves the little children. Herod hates the little children. Jesus comes to the little children, hiding the glory of his almighty power under his humble human nature. Herod orders the children killed for the sake of his own political gain. And so you see politicians who turn their backs on the unborn, shutting their ears to their suffering and death, because this is how you gain political power in a country that hates Jesus.
Appearances can be deceiving. Who would have thought that the small, infant king would survive, while Herod would fall? And now we witness how small, how ineffective, how very irrelevant the Church of Christ on earth appears to be. Who needs to flee for refuge to the God become flesh when the whole world is there for the asking? Who needs to bow down before the God incarnate, when there is money to be made and the most amazing adventures in human achievement to celebrate? Look at America’s power! She is as powerful as any nation that has ever existed. She has a higher standard of living. She has amazing recourses. She can impose her will on most other nations in the world, and has frequently done so.
But her present height of glory will only make her fall more bitter and painful. And when it happens, people will ask why. They will try to understand what politics is powerless to explain. But God’s word explained it before it happened. You see, when God became a baby, he said something about babies. He said that he loves them. He said that he wants to come to them and be their God. God does not take kindly to those who kill babies. God judges. He will punish our nation because our nation stood by and watched as millions of babies were slaughtered in the name of false gods. God punishes. He punishes those who kill babies and he punishes those who protect and support those who kill babies. Rachel was avenged in Herod’s death. She will be avenged again.
Nations come and go. They rise and fall, and God laughs at their foolish attempts to play God. We worship a God who fulfills to the letter every single detail of biblical prophecy, even down to the return of the baby Jesus from Egypt to his home in Nazareth. St. Matthew teaches us here in our Gospel Lesson for today that the prophet Hosea was talking about Jesus when he said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
We learn important lessons from this account of Jesus’ deliverance from the hands of the murderer, Herod. We learn that evil men have power and use it and cause pain and suffering and that’s the way it is going to be. We learn that these evil men are not really in control. Our gracious God has set a limit to their power. We learn that God loves the little children. Those who call themselves Christians must love them as well. This is why we baptize babies instead of killing them. More than anything, we learn that God’s power is not to be found in appearances of great political might. Rather, God’s power is hidden under the cover of weakness. We find our almighty God in this little One who appears to be so weak and small. But he is not. He is our God who has come to us in the only way we can know him. He is indeed the LORD’s Christ. He has come to us and to our children.
And he won’t leave us. Yes, he just might destroy the nation we call home, but he won’t let anything destroy his holy nation, his holy Church. He who shed his blood for us to wash us clean of every sin has come to us and has given us this precious gospel, assuring us of its truth. And he will guard and keep his Church through every trouble of this world.
And when his people wander into the ways of the world and turn their backs on their gracious God, Jesus calls them back. He invites them to return to their true home. He covers their sin and rebellion with his own holy obedience. There is no sin that Jesus did not bear. There is no sin so sinful that he does not forgive it. He forgives even those who have joined Herod against him. He wins them back by a love so deep, so pure, and so powerful that it creates faith where there was nothing but emptiness. He pours his Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people so that they can confess the true faith in the face of every enemy of the church. This is how Christ’s kingdom stands when all others are destroyed. Amen