Summary: Jesus was born into a sin filled and cruel world. Spiritual warfare was focused on one child born in Bethlehem who gives victory over death to all HIs followers.
The world was dark Matthew 2_13-23
Sun, Dec 30, 2007 Christmas 1(a) First: Is. 63:7-14Epistle: Gal 4:4-7Gospel: Matt. 2:13-23Psalm: Psalm 111
When we look at the church calendar after Christmas, it almost seems as if the church fathers made it their business to remind us that Jesus was born into a sin filled and cruel world. The three days after Christmas are some of the deadliest days of the church year.
The day after Christmas, December 26 is the Feast of Stephen. It is the day we remember his death. The feast commemorates the first martyr of the New Testament Church. We read his story in the sixth and seventh chapter of Acts. There we read how the Jewish ruling council stoned him after he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ.
December 27, the next day, is the Feast of John the Apostle and Evangelist. It is the day we remember his death. Although he was the only one of the original twelve apostles to die of old age, that was not for a lack of trying. He suffered much for his confession of faith in Jesus Christ, but, for some reason, all the efforts of the executioners and assassins failed to end his life.
Then, on December 28, we remember the Slaughter of the Innocents, the story we read in today’s gospel. The events of today’s gospel are so disturbing that it is hard to believe they are part of the Christmas story. Yet, it is something that truly happened. King Herod really did send his troops to destroy all the boys of Bethlehem who were two years of age or less.
King Herod was one of the most ruthless politicians of his time. He managed by cunning and the spilling of a great deal of blood to remain in power through several transfers of power in Rome. Most of the time, a new emperor took control in Rome and then purged his government. This usually included killing all those who were loyal to his predecessor. Somehow, Herod not only survived these purges, but even managed to gain power while those around him lost their heads.
Herod was cruel and paranoid. Since he often maintained his hold on power through bloodshed, he expected others would do the same. As a result, no one was immune from his sword. He freely killed his sons, wives, and anyone else who might make a claim to the throne. According to legend Caesar Augustus remarked: "It is better to be Herod’s swine than his son." Some historians didn’t bother to include the slaughter in Bethlehem in their accounts because it paled in comparison to Herod’s other atrocities.
It is obvious that Satan inhabited Herod in the same way that a hand might inhabit a glove. Herod may have given the appearance of a man with a lot of power, but he was really a slave - a slave of Satan. When Herod gave the order for the death of the young boys in Bethlehem, Satan was stretching out his hand to put a quick end to God’s plan of salvation.
This was only the latest in a series of satanic attacks that stretched back to the Garden of Eden where Satan began his war to stop the coming of the Savior who would crush his head. Down through the centuries, Satan waged continuous war in a vain attempt to exterminate the remnant of God’s people who carried the promise of the coming Messiah. Sometimes, it almost seemed as if Satan was winning as the remnant dwindled in size to almost nothing - the church of eight people that met on Noah’s Ark - the lone prophet Elijah who thought he was the last God-fearing man on earth - the exiles in Babylon. There were several times that the remnant of God’s people almost disappeared, but God always preserved a few faithful people.
Today’s Gospel tells how this war focused on one child born in Bethlehem. That child was all that stood between Satan and total world domination. Is it any wonder that Satan instigated Herod, his slave, to wipe out those toddlers and infants of Bethlehem? This was not just a political assassination on Herod’s part. This was spiritual war on Satan’s part.
In spiritual warfare, no holds are barred. There is no Geneva Convention. Satan will attack men, women, and, as today’s gospel indicates, even children. All are his targets. All are his enemies. There are no non-combatants.
This has been the case throughout history. When I first learned that the Israelites conquered the Canaanites and took their land away from them, I wondered if that was incredibly unfair. Later I learned that the Canaanites worshiped a god of the underworld and frequently offered their children as burnt sacrifices to that god. God not only gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites, but He also punished the Canaanites for their detestable worship practices including the sacrifice of children.