“God’s Son is called out of Egypt”
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hark! The herald angels sing! Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. What our minds could never fathom and our hearts could never dream, God has done. The virgin bears an infant with virgin honor pure. God takes on human flesh to live among us and to give us the gifts of life and salvation. ”Joy to the world! The Lord has come!” It is truly “the most wonderful time of the year!”
But, in the afterglow of Christmas, we are jarred back to the realization that there is little rest for those who are marked with the sign of the cross. All that God is and all that He represents is detested and disdained by the world and the devil. In the Gospel reading for this morning, Herod is intent on killing Jesus because he perceived Him to be a threat to his kingdom and power. We might say that, Herod, in this instance, is the devil incarnate, because he demonstrates the vile contempt of the devil for God’s Christ and for all of the children of the covenant. He spews his murderous hatred and leaves behind him a path of carnage and the anguished cries of mothers weeping for their sons.
“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
For over 1,600 years the Church has observed December 28th as the day of the “Holy Innocents.” The day commemorates the slaughter of the little boys that Herod ripped from their mother’s arms in a futile attempt to kill the Christ of God. The day also presents a stark reminder that the Church must live in a militant state until the day of our Lord’s coming. There are battles to be fought, truth to be proclaimed, and pain and suffering to be endured. All under the providential care of the One whose life we adore and whose grace and mercy gives us resolve and strength to meet, with courage, each new and crafty assault of the evil foe.
As a church that is “pro life,” the day of the “Holy Innocents” is also a good time for us to mourn and lament our own failures in allowing the atrocity of “abortion on demand” to be the law of the land in this country so blessed by God. Since the landmark case, “Roe vs. Wade,” in 1973 millions of unborn children have been ripped from their mother’s womb under the guise of personal freedom and choice. What can we say but God forgive us that our righteous cry has been insufficient to stop such a slaughter of the helpless. God grant us the conviction, the resolve to never view human life so carelessly. God grant us the resolve to reach out to those who fear that they have no choice but to take the life of their unborn child. And God grant us the mercy and the compassion to speak words of forgiveness to those who have taken the life of their unborn child, and who, like Rachel weep because their child is no more.
Children, of course, are the most defenseless, the most helpless among us. For that reason, God commends them to their parents who are to nurture them, to love them, to care for them, even to sacrifice for them. Beyond God’s charge to parents to tend to the physical needs of their children is His charge to give them new life in Christ through the water of Holy Baptism. The child, having been marked with the sign of the cross, is entrusted to his parents, who are to teach him about the grace of God given to him in his baptism and to remind him that, with the mark of baptism, he became an avowed enemy of the devil. It is also to teach him, that, though he is weak and helpless, he is nonetheless a formidable opponent in the good fight of faith, Christ, the Lord of the Church, giving him strength.
The Church too, has an obligation to nurture the newborn in their God given faith. Fulfilling our charge, we lift the child up in prayer that he be strong in the fight.
“Gracious Head, Your member own;
Shepherd, take Your lamb and feed it;
Prince of Peace, make here Your throne;
Way of Life, to heave lead it;
Precious vine, let nothing sever
From Your side this branch forever.”
In Bethlehem the devil made his attack by carnal force. Today he often makes his attack by stealth. Gathered around God’s Word this morning we are, no doubt, troubled by the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, particularly when it interrupts our celebration of Christmas. Questions no doubt arise. What if one of those children were mine? Wouldn’t I be asking God why He didn’t take the life of Herod instead of allowing him to take the life of my child? After all, at that moment, even God’s Son fled to Egypt to escape the devil’s fury!
As a pastor I know I’m supposed to have all the answers to life’s “whys.” And yet, I don’t. None of us do. We can say, of course, that Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt and the weeping of Rachel were to fulfill prophecy. But that, of course, isn’t really a very satisfying answer for a mother who weep over the loss of her child. The fact is, absent faith and trust in the essential goodness and mercy of God, all of our “whys” wind up trying and condemning God for His perceived deficiencies. Finally, what we do is commend the Holy Innocents to God’s loving arms, and though we don’t understand God allowing such a tragedy to happen, we know that He redeems even the most heinous of life’s tragedies for those who confess His holy name.
And as always, we look for the message of hope and of grace in God’s actions. As to Mary and Joseph having to flee to Egypt, remember, the Jews could relate to something God did long ago in Egypt. In other words, in the Jewish mind, Egypt was a very significant place in terms of God’s dealing with His people. It was, of course, the place from which God delivered them by His mighty power from the oppressive rule of Pharaoh, another incarnation of the devil, if you will. It was in Egypt that God exposed all of the impotent efforts of the devil to destroy His faithful people. It was in Egypt that the Jews celebrated Passover on the night of their deliverance. It was in Egypt that they walked out of the gates of bondage into freedom.
Egypt then is symbolic of God’s work of salvation. To invoke the name of Egypt is to invoke the faithfulness of God. It is to bring to bear Passover, deliverance, future and hope into the lives of those who weep and mourn. It is to remember that God redeems His people, His militant church, from the most appalling, the most painful of circumstances. To invoke the name of Egypt is a reminder that God takes the Rachel’s of this world, those who are weeping over unimaginable losses, and He holds them in His arms and dries their tears.
Mary and Joseph go back to the country of God’s deliverance, and Jesus emerges as “God’s Son” called out of Egypt. What that meant to the Jews of Jesus’ day, what it means to us today, is that Jesus story is our, it is your story.
You and I are the sons and daughters that God has called out of Egypt! By God’s overwhelming grace and mercy, you are the chosen of God, cleansed in the water of baptism, washed with the crimson blood that flowed from Jesus’ hands, feet and brow. You are, in a sense, the “Holy Innocents.” Luther wrote, “Just as the bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh—so Christ and the church are one spirit,” Thus the blessed God and Father of mercies—granted to us every great and precious gift in Christ. Everything that Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy people out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation in hell.
God delivered His Son out of Egypt, the place of His other great deliverance of Israel. And thus, through Christ He delivers us and all of the Rachel’s of this world, whose weeping can only be taken away by His death and resurrection, by His giving meaning even to our profound losses. The virgin bears an infant with virgin honor pure. God takes on human flesh to live among us and to give us the gifts of life and salvation. And so, even in the midst of the devils assault, our hearts are filled with song and joy…”Joy to the world! The Lord has come!” And in that, it is truly “the most wonderful time of the year!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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