Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Personal comfort and convenience have deceived many people into believing that they are justified in showing disrespect for life. God will not permit this condition to persist among His people.

“Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, 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. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

‘A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.’”[1]

In the liturgical calendar, Epiphany is assigned to January 6. However, in the liturgical churches of the western world the observance is transferred to the Sunday nearest that date. Hence, on January 3, the Feast of Epiphany commemorates the visit of the magi. Epiphany is said to remind Christians that God’s salvation reached beyond the Jews. Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would be “a light for the Gentiles.” Moreover, He would bring “salvation to the ends of the earth” [*Isaiah 49:6*], certainly as far as those very magi had traveled.

However, after the magi departed things turned unimaginably dark. Suddenly, we see that the Christmas story is more than the stylized Nativity scenes represented on Christmas cards. Joseph was warned in a dream to take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt where he was to remain until called by God to return [*Matthew 2:13-15*]. The dream must have occurred during the night following the magi’s visit. Likely, Joseph and his family left hurriedly the very next morning. Having few goods with them, they would have been unimpeded in their departure.

Herod was a master in the art of assassination. Upon coming to the throne, he annihilated the Sanhedrin.[2] Later, he slaughtered three hundred court officers out of hand.[3] Later still, he murdered his wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra together with his eldest son Antipater.[4] Josephus also tells how Herod then murdered two other sons—Alexander and Aristobulus—because he imagined that they threatened his power.[5] A pun attributed to the emperor Augustus, alluding to the Jewish avoidance of pork, noted that “it is better to be Herod’s swine (*/hus/*) than Herod’s son (*/huíos/*)!” In the hour of his death, in March, 4 bc, this cruel monarch arranged for the slaughter of the notable men of Jerusalem because he wanted to ensure that people mourned his passing. Salome, his sister, countermanded this diabolical plan, however.

In the painting “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens attempted to depict the horror—a soldier smashing a child against a Roman column, another lancing a mother who tries to hide her babe. The painting also shows a woman weeping over the body of her dead infant. It’s a scene from the Bible none of us enjoy imagining. In describing the atrocity, the Evangelist Matthew quoted the Prophet Jeremiah.

Early Christians, to whom Levi geared His account of the Master’s life, were almost exclusively Jewish. Raised as Jews and thoroughly versed in Jewish tradition and familiar with the Scriptures, they would have known that Ramah was where Rachel died in the throes of childbirth before reaching the Promised Land [*Genesis 35:16-21*; *48:7*]. They also would have associated Ramah with the deportation of the Jews during the exile. In that vicinity, the Babylonians ripped Israel’s children from their mother’s arms in order to carry them into slavery. Thus, Jeremiah’s prophecy pointed forward to the deep sorrow Jewish mothers would experience and pointed farther forward yet to the sorrow that would attend the birth of the Messiah.

That evocative solo of Rachel weeping would have called forth the agony, the despair, and the tortured “Why,” of grieving parents points to the child who would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” [*Isaiah 53:3*]. Thinking about this aspect of the Christmas story, we are reminded that Christmas isn’t the saccharine story we’ve created in the popular consciousness. Satan unleashed a vicious counterattack [see *Revelation 12:4b*].

Satan’s assault attacked life at its most vulnerable stage. The very first assault by the devil after the birth of Christ was against society’s weakest members—infants; he attacked the “least of these.” Even today, the enemy’s mode of attack hasn’t changed much. We are painfully aware of the ongoing slaughter of the unborn, the devaluation of the elderly, the vulnerability of the poor, the disabled and the prisoner.

Though we are Christians, and though we sometimes feel helpless in the face of the unrelenting assault against life perpetuated by a self-centred society, we are on the side of right. Though our Faith proscribes us from employing violence against violent people, we do have powerful weapons at our disposal—righteousness, prayer and truth. It is time that the people of God stood athwart the path of evil that seeks to destroy life even as the culture about us advances individual self-interest ahead of personal responsibility.

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