29. December 2010
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
Happy fifth day of Christmas. The historic celebration of Christmas was a full twelve days, from the Christmas vigil through the celebration of Epiphany. On the second day of Christmas, (my true love gave to me… no, wait), we celebrated the feast of St. Stephen, the first matyr. On the third day of Christmas, we traditionally remember St. John the Evangelist, who died in exile. On the fourth day (yesterday), the church remembers the Holy Innocents who were slaughtered by treacherous Herod.
The church celebrates the highest birth, then death, to exile, and finally mass murder. Yet, as was said on Sunday, the birth of Christ is nothing without Good Friday in view. The birth of the savior is the birth of of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus’ birth is the divine entering into the human condition in order to change it. God the creator becomes like his creatures so that they might once again be like him.
Forgiveness of sins is not of much value if it doesn’t lead to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting. Jesus shows us the way to resurrection and eternal life. He is that way. His shed blood saves us, redeems us, makes atonement for our sins. He is the only way for us to once again walk with God in eternal peace.
Christmas just as bloody an affair as Good Friday. Christ’s blood marked St. Stephen, preparing him for the martyr’s death. Stephen knew that he was saved by the Savior’s blood. He willingly allowed his blood to be spilled for the good confession. His blood still cries out from the ground like Abel’s blood for the vengeance of the Lord. He cries out as a faithful witness. Trusting in our Lord and living like it is liable to get you killed. Abel learned that lesson the hard way. Stephen had the benefit of history. He was not surprised at the brothers’ backstabbing.
The bloodbath continues today. Let’s recap the story. Herod knew something was up. The supernatural astrological sign appeared, strange men from Babylon arrived, and all Jerusalem was troubled. Leave it to a bunch of astrologers to remember the sign of Balaam. Herod the Great had rebuilt the temple and practiced Jewish rites but was no Jew by blood. His approach to scripture was superstitious at best. Still, superstitions are bound to be right sometimes. Plus, his cohorts agreed with the Magi from afar. A troubling sign, indeed.
Betrayal never goes well, especially when to a malicious despot. The Magi were warned by God to depart by another way. It didn’t take long for Herod to figure out that he had been tricked. Power hungry and blood thirsty, Herod swung his axe far and wide and in anger. “When he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, [Herod] became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” How many innocent children were slaughtered, we do not know. If just Bethlehem, perhaps a few dozen. If the surrounding region, the number expanded greatly. Murderous blood poured out of Bethlehem.
Jesus’ Father in heaven would not see the blade meet his son. He warns the steward of Christ, his legal and adoptive father Joseph in a dream. Angel’s visions are getting to be a regular occurrence. Joseph isn’t surprised this time and heeds the warning well. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Wasting no time, Joseph took the family to Egypt and remained there until Herod Archelaus took the throne.
Its not a pretty scene. Matthew has ruined the idyllic crèche. His nativity of the Holy Family, Magi, Shepherds, with oxen and ass standing by, quickly is abandoned for murder, blood, and a flight to Egypt. The savior is born and innocent children are slaughtered. Its no wonder people take down their trees before they get to the fourth day of Christmas. No wonder the celebration is cut short. No one wants death, especially of children.
The reality of our faith is vividly taught in the remembrance of the Holy Innocents. Believe in Christ and prepare to suffer.
While the world celebrates their pagan Christmas, worshipping their gods of wealth, food, and football, we were found here in our Lord’s house, hearing his word, and receiving his gifts. While the impostor King worshipped temple and sacrifice, the dispersed children of Rachel, the lost ten tribes returned to worship the true God. Our pagan culture mocks our nativity scenes and our passionate calls to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Some will resort to violence against this confession, vandalizing and thieving Christmas decorations at churches and stores.
Herod’s reaction is even stronger. He can’t abide by any encroachment on his idolatry. His anger at being subverted by the Magi brought sword and spear upon children. We can’t imagine such a thing happening here. But, dear Christians, the idols of this world cannot stand Jesus any more than Herod. They hate Christ and his word just as much as the murderous Idumaean Herod.
So why don’t we have more martyrs? Why don’t the leaders of wickedness in our midst enact the same vengeance upon our children as Herod? Simply because we haven’t asked for it. We don’t challenge idolatry in this world. We allow people to persist in sin without the reproof they need. We don’t pray that our Lord would break and hinder the plans of the devil, especially that our Lord would use us to do so.
As a matter of fact, we’re pretty ignorant of the real spiritual danger that surrounds us. We innocently assume that our idols hidden under or in our beds are of little danger. We ignore the warnings about wealth and seek to gain this filthy lucre. We speak just as poorly of our neighbor as the next guy. We lust after property and wife without abandon.
Worse yet, many have rejected our Lord’s Divine Service. They do not call upon our Lord in every trouble with prayer and the Word. They refuse to cast out their idols for worship of the Holy Trinity only. If we peer into our own hearts with honesty, we know that we have failed to be bold in witness of faith and life.
Its no wonder then that the world doesn’t hate us like Herod hated those children. Its no wonder that more of us don’t die from the blade. Most pagans consider what passes as Christian in our congregations and lives as nothing special. They are not offended because we give them no cause for offense. It’s not that we’re gentle or kind in our witness. Its that our witness is weak. We don’t demand the kind of repentance that John the Baptist proclaimed and our Father requires.
Why is there so much blood spilt on these first days of Christmas? Because the Magi believed and refused to listen to the pagan King. Because St. Stephen believed and confessed the faith to those who were offended. Because those holy innocents, even though they could not speak, gave up their lives while the Son of God fled to Egypt. Let us ask God to put to death all sin and idolatry in our hearts, instead granting us trust and new obedience to his word. This faith and life may lead to our death. Our blood may be let like those innocents. Still, let us not waver but remain steadfast in our Lord that we may receive the crown of everlasting life. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +