Christmas 2 – January 4, 2004

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

In Nomine Iesu

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

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.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 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.” 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

The celebration of Christmas seems to be a very benign, inoffensive, harmless activity. After all, millions of people around the world go to church, they listen to the words of St. Luke chapter 2, “and it came to pass in those days…”, they sing hymns of rejoicing, songs of praise and thankfulness. Sunday school Christmas programs are much the same. Children learn by heart some special words and phrases of God’s Word, they practice and learn how to sing a number of Christmas carols. In all these activities around Christmas we see nothing but gentleness, kindness, joy, goodwill, patience, caring, and love: love for God, and a desire to love our neighbor with greater charity in the year to come.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are simply following the example of that first Christmas when shepherds were shown the wonders of heaven through the sights and sounds of the angelic host, and they were directed to the little town of Bethlehem where they could see the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, just as it had been told them by the angel. The shepherds saw the miracle of the birth of the baby Jesus, and returned glorifying and praising God. A silent night became a night of joy and gladness because of the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord.

Two years later we have another gathering of people around Jesus. Now, instead of shepherds it is the Magi from the East, bringing with them wondrous offerings of precious gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews and they found Him at Bethlehem, attended by His mother Mary, and Joseph. Once more we nothing sinister or hostile here. Simply an act of worship, a confession of faith, gestures of love and gratitude to God. What could be so wrong with all this?

Well, nothing is wrong with any of it. Nothing is wrong with gathering at Christmastime to hear the wonderful news of the birth of the Savior Jesus; nothing is wrong with Sunday school Christmas programs, nor of the shepherds and wise men from the East coming to worship the Christ-child. So why do we read this about King Herod: “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.” Why such a shocking action by the king? Why does Herod respond with murder to the news of the birth of Jesus? Why are children killed when Jesus is born? Why is there weeping, lamentation, and mourning at a time that should bring joy, gladness, and cheerfulness?

Psalm 2 teaches us: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed….” The powers of this world have much to lose if the Christ-child Jesus accomplishes His mission. Jesus came to defeat the power and riches of this world. He came to show that the very things people think are the ways to dominate, control, and live the best way possible are actually unable to do what they promise. No worldly kingdom lasts. No treasures of gold, platinum, stocks and bonds, are able to give what lasts forever. But those who rely on such things, those who have sold their souls for this world, those who do not see the true chains and shackles of sin, Satan, and death, prefer to see the Christ-child as the enemy. They see Jesus as the One who will ruin their lives, upset their kingdoms, and take away their power. Therefore Jesus must die, according to the thinking of this world. And if others must die too, like the baby boys of Bethlehem, so be it. The hatred against Jesus is potent.

While soldiers, the power of the world, seek the life of Jesus, what is Jesus doing? He is resting in the arms of His mother, Mary, traveling to Egypt with no more escort than Joseph. God hereby shows His contempt for the powers that attempt to overwhelm His only-begotten Son. God knows their plans, and He laughs. Kings like Herod and so many others, those who think they know what power and might are, are shown to be ignorant of real power. For the real power, the real might and strength, are there in the baby Jesus who looks so meek and mild. “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty….”

So Jesus will go on His way to Egypt for a time. Like His human ancestors hundreds of years before, He will leave the promised land when death is near, in order to be safe in Egypt for a time. But like Israel led by Moses, Jesus will leave Egypt and return to the promised land. But this Jesus is the One who Moses promised would be greater than himself. And Jesus, despite His meekness, His humility, His lowliness, would take on the powers of the world, the spite of Satan, the cold reality of death, and defeat them. This Christ-child would grow and mature so that He could live and die for you and me, so that we need never fear even death. For our Savior, this Jesus, is the Son of God, who redeemed us by His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death so that we can be His own, and live with Him forever.

“Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” That’s the news that Joseph heard that allowed him to bring Jesus back to Nazareth. For you and me God brings the good news that those who seek our life: sin, the devil, even death, are themselves dead to us. They have no power to rule us or dominate us. Instead, they all had to acknowledge the power of Jesus, who is now our gentle and loving King, our Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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