Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sermon on Slaughter of the Innocents

(painting: Duccio di Buoninsegna

detail from

The Slaughter of the Innocents)

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 
18 “ A voice was heard in Ramah,

      Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
      Rachel weeping for her children,
      Refusing to be comforted,
      Because they are no more” (Matthew 2:13-23).

Our Lord’s birth was heralded by angels and singing in heaven – it is so glorious to us and so sweet.  Our voices are raised to the heavens thanking God for the true gift of Christmas – that the Son of God wraps Himself in human flesh and places Himself under the tree of the cross.  He whom the sea and Wind obey comes to serve us sinners in great meekness.   

Hark the herald angels sing - glory to the new born king. 

But there was another sound in Bethlehem soon after our Lord’s birth.  A voice was heard – weeping and lamenting, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted, because “they are no more.” 

As Bethlehem mothers were rocking their baby boys to sleep, Herod’s executioners broke down their doors, tore their babies from their breasts and slaughtered them without mercy.  There was sobbing and shrieking.  It must have been the most horrific sight. 

It was a cruel and treacherous act to be sure – beyond human comprehension, beyond all excuse.  But this is how the life of our Lord Jesus commenced, with the devil appearing soon on the scene to violently whip up all kinds of suffering and grief.      

Where is the peace on earth and mercy mild?  Where are those promises of God now?
If we think we can surmise a neat and tidy answer for why the Bethlehem babies were slaughtered or why God permits the unborn to be stolen from their mother’s wombs – we should repent.  The ways of God are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  God’s coming into His world is not in a way easily seen – born in a smelly stable in Bethlehem.  Not all is as it appears. 

God’s mercy and His love are not self-evident.  He does not work in ways that we expect.  His loveliness and glory are revealed but also hidden in a lamb led to the slaughter without complaint or resistance.  That is why we are all led not by sight but by faith.         

As incomprehensible as the slaughter of the innocents is, there is probably good reason why the church has placed this reading shortly after the nativity.

For we are all on a pilgrimage in this life.  Out of Egypt he has called His sons and his daughters – out of the land of bondage he has called us.  Like the holy innocents in Bethlehem we are not granted the knowledge of how long our sojourn through this earthly life will be.  The Holy Innocents were sent to heaven before us – theirs was rather short.  And ours shall be slightly longer.

The baby boys will not know what it is like to outlive their children.  Their tears were few and short.  They seemed to die but they really lived.  What Herod meant for evil God meant for good.  Herod handed them over to heaven, with peace and mercy mild – joy without measure.  They praised God not by their speaking but by their dying. 
It is true also for you. Though we seem to be dying, we are truly living.  So do not mourn as those who have no hope. What God takes away, God restores. “Your children shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future. Your children shall come back to their own border.” 

Yesterday, there was family missing at the altar and there were those missing at the dining table around the turkey.  One was taken from cancer, another was silenced by Alzheimer’s, another fell victim to the crippling effects of depression.  The Lord gives and he takes away.  He works sadness and joy - life and death – and all in all.      

But we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We have hope. Jesus Christ did not stay in Egypt. He came out of the land of slavery. He crossed the Jordan with the sign of the Dove and the opening of heaven.  He cured the sick and opened the eyes of the blind. He went to the cross. He rose from the dead.  

Dear Christians – Jesus has come among you as the true Holy Innocent.  His conception was holy - His birth innocent – His life without sin.  He kept the law perfectly.  And from the cradle to His blessed cross He suffered the punishment that was our due.  He rose from the dead holy and innocent – and victorious over the power of Hell and Herod.     

And so you are innocent – holy innocents – holy not by what you have done but holy by what has done unto you.  Made holy by the holy one who has come to you.      

Children of God nursing from the Holy Blood and Holy Word of Jesus.  Wrapped up and bundled warmly in the promises of God.  No tyrant – no molester – no power on earth can restrain Jesus love for you – who journeys from heaven above to earth below to seize you and claim you as His own.

You are just a child to him – and a lovely one at that.  Just a little baptized baby to your heavenly Father.  He loves you and takes the greatest joy in you.  Because the Father loves the Son – you are dearly loved.    
In your daily dying to sin you arise as holy innocents.  Free to worship Him without fear and holy in His sight all the days of your life.      

Be comforted.  God is not yet done with you.  He has placed a magnificent promise upon your doors and over your households.  And He loves to show you what he has done when all is crumbling around - and when you least expect it.  He will bring it to completion in the Day of Jesus Christ.

We lost children will be brought home.  To the place we have all been waiting for.  In Jesus name+ 

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