Summary: Do we get caught up in the festivities of the Christmas season, or do we hear God’s call to discipleship? This Sermon is for the observation of the Holy Innocents, December 28.
Delivered to Deliver Others!
Well, here we are, on the other side of Christmas. The gifts are opened, the parties are over, and the meals and cookies are consumed. Perhaps even some of the gifts have been returned. I haven’t yet seen my first Christmas tree on the curb, but I’m sure it can’t be very far away. As the Church’s celebration of Christmas moves into full swing, the society around us is ready to pack it in. The Church celebrates, as the song says, the Twelve Days of Christmas, the days between Christmas and Epiphany, the day celebrating the visit of the Magi, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But society ha been celebrating Christmas while we were observing Advent, and now that we’re ready to make merry, they’re done. The baby has come, the birthday’s over, so it’s time to pack away the lights and the manger scene for another year. But a much-beloved Christmas carol beckons us to ponder the mystery of the Babe in the manger, the mystery of the Word made flesh:
What Child is this who, laid to rest / On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, / While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, / Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, / The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Today’s Gospel reading comes from Matthew, immediately following the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. The Magi came, following the star, to seek out the “child who has been born king of the Jews.” The star led them to Jerusalem, where they went to Herod, to inquire the whereabouts of the newborn king. Sneaky Herod sent them to Bethlehem, but with special instructions: “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:8) But the Magi, warned in a dream about Herod, returned home by another road. When Herod realized that his game was up, his rage got the better of him. He ordered for the murder of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the Magi.
Into the joy of the news of the birth of the Savior interrupts the horror of sin. The death of countless innocent children isn’t something we want to associate with the peaceful serenity of the Christmas scene. But there it is. The Christmas decorations haven’t even come down, and we’re already reminded of the need for Christ’s birth among us. We want to sing our Christmas carols, drink our eggnog, and ignore the fact that the baby in the manger must suffer and die. But God’s way wasn’t the easy way. Glory must come through a cross. And so we sing:
Why lies He in such mean estate, / Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here / The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, / The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, / The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Today we hear of Jesus’ being delivered from the destruction, saved when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there."
There was another child in Israel’s history who was saved from a slaughter. Baby Moses was spared from the murder of Israelite infants in Egypt. Pharaoh feared that the Israelite slaves were getting too numerous and powerful, so he decreed, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live." (Ex. 1:22) So Moses’ mother hid him in a basket in the Nile River, where he was found and taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses was delivered so that he could save God’s chosen people.
And in the same way, Jesus’ deliverance helped to indicate his role as deliverer. Jesus was taken to Egypt (ironically enough) for safe keeping, so that Herod’s reign of destruction wouldn’t harm the child. Jesus was the new Moses, the savior of God’s people.
Readers of Matthew’s Gospel would have immediately made the connection between Moses and Jesus. Just as Moses was spared so that he could deliver God’s people, so too Jesus was spared so that he could deliver God’s people.
But Jesus life was destined to save more than just the Israelites. Jesus death and resurrection was for all people. We can celebrate Christmas because Jesus died and rose again for us. Christmas can be joyful because it leads to the cross, to the empty tomb.