Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sermon: Christmas 2

3 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:13-23 (Gen 46:1-7, 1 Pet 4:12-19)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the leading “new atheists,” Christopher Hitchens, wrote a popular book called God Is Not Great. It’s a funny title of a book written by an Atheist. But the subtitle shows where the author is going with his argument. It is: How Religion Poisons Everything. In this book, the author claims that our faith is: “violent, irrational” and “coercive toward children.”

It is easy to dismiss such nonsense out of hand, but people outside these walls – including our own friends and relatives – are reading, and believing, these claims. Christian churches all across America are emptying – especially of young people. Churches in Europe are already empty. In fact, in many places around the world, it is open season on Christians and on others who hold to some kind of belief in the supernatural. A recent study estimates that 70% of the people on planet earth live under religious restrictions.

And in spite of Hitchens’s bombastic claim, it is not the church, but the secular world, that has the blood of 40 million unborn children on its hands, sacrificed to a pantheon of false gods that include: political correctness, convenience, money, and yes, Atheism.

The slaughter of innocents is nothing new. The Old Testament prophets called the children of Israel to repentance for sacrificing their own children. On December 28, Christians around the world remembered the Holy Innocents who were sacrificed by wicked King Herod as “collateral damage” in Satan’s war against our Lord Jesus. And this too was addressed by Jeremiah in the Old Testament: “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.”

In modern society, there are very few advocates for the modern-day versions of the Holy Innocents, those millions of children who are murdered in the womb, unable even to scream. With few exceptions, Mr. Hitchens’s Atheist comrades are not speaking up for them. In fact, most would agree with the horrifying slogan that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” No, we Christians are not the irrationally violent and coercive of children, for as God’s Word teaches us, every child is created in God’s image and every life is sacred. The concentration camp is the tool of the Atheist, not of the Christian.

But, Mr. Hitchens would retort with a sneer, "Why does God allow such evil as the slaughter of the innocents?" We do not know why God prevents some tragedies and allows for others. We do know that evil is sin, and sin is spawned not by God, but by the enemies of the cross, by the forces of darkness, by the “old evil foe” who seeks to teach us such lies as “God is not great.” It is the selfish and ruthless evil of King Herod, seeking to destroy the Christ child, as well as that of a similar ruler, the Pharaoh of Egypt, who tried to destroy an earlier savior, Moses, who likewise led the people out of slavery.

The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, does not foil every plan of evil. He told that us the wages of sin is death, and so all of us poor miserable sinners are mortal. Whether we die of old age or by the sword of a tyrant, we will all die. Our world is rotting and decaying, falling farther into the abyss.

But thanks be to God that we are “not of this world.” We are of the Lord’s kingdom. We are but strangers here. We have been baptized, born again, and called out of darkness into the light. We have been saved by the One who cheated death as an infant so as to cheat death by dying as an adult on the cross. Herod’s irrational, violent, and coercive plan did not succeed, and like all evil, his actions contributed to the misery of this world. And yet, the true King whom Herod sought to kill, overcame all evil. “It is finished,” He was to proclaim after being sent to the cross, in part by the corrupt acts of another Herod.

For although the world is filled with brokenness, evil does not have the final say. For God is indeed great, and what’s more, He is merciful. He loves His creation. He takes flesh and dies for His creatures. He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep us, His redeemed creatures, faithful in His Word. He provides us with fellow believers and worshipers, to bolster one another’s faith. He provides us with the holy sacraments to comfort and fortify us.

And this is why St. Peter tells us not to be “surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” We shouldn’t think of this as “something strange.” If the fallen world, filled with evil, hates the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sought to murder Jesus as a child, and if evil men conspired to put the Lord to death on a cross – why should we think the world will treat us with kid gloves?

Indeed, the history of the church is a bloody one. We are at war, dear Christians. It is Satan, our belligerent enemy, who is irrational, violent, and coercive. Satan wants to destroy your faith, and Satan’s helpers like Christopher Hitchens are targeting us – especially our children and grandchildren. Christians around the world are still being put to the sword, and in America, the faith is under a cultural, intellectual, and political full-press. And there are indeed 40 million tiny casualties of this war in America alone – a number that climbs into the billions worldwide –
whose blood cries out to God for vindication.

And when the world attacks us in its many ways, St. Peter exhorts us to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”

Peter teaches us that we are blessed in our sufferings for Christ, for we are joining Christ in His passion. We are taking up our own cross, and are serving the kingdom in our sufferings – even if we do not see or understand how. This is how we are to approach Christopher Hitchen’s question “Why?” The answer is not for us to know, but to endure, to persevere, to give glory to God, and to receive the eternal blessings promised to us in Christ Jesus. God has a plan. Our suffering somehow serves the kingdom. And that is our cause of rejoicing.

Indeed, those left behind to mourn the innocent victims of evil “weep with loud lamentation.” But as our Lord teaches us, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Our comfort will come in the fullness of time, when all sin and sorrow is banished and when all unbelief is done away with. For our Lord promises to wipe the tears from every eye of those who have been redeemed, all of us, victims of every manner of evil, of violence, of irrational hatred, and of coercion of children.

And even those among us who have succumbed to temptation and joined the world’s war against children will be comforted. For Christians too have been caught up in the sin of abortion and in making convenience and money a god at the expense of the Lord’s children. Your weeping will also come to an end, for He who survived the sword of Herod died for you as well, to take away your guilt and shame.

The English writer and Christian thinker known to us today as Lady Julian of Norwich summed it up like this: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” The widowed St. Julian could say this in the face of a the evil surrounding her in her own day, of the black death and peasant revolts, of her own aging and dying – because she was, and remains eternally, in Christ.

Jesus came to make all manner of things new, to forgive sins, to abolish all evil, to raise the dead, to restore the broken creation, and to give us everlasting life. The horrific events of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents are overcome by the Lord’s life-giving love. The sin of abortion is overcome by the good news that the One True Holy Innocent died for us poor miserable sinners. God’s greatness is not in His destruction of evil, but rather in His patience with us, who have been corrupted by evil. Rather than kill us, He dies in our place to give us life, washing us with baptism, nurturing us with His body and blood, and breathing life into us by His Holy Spirit through the Word. God’s greatness is not in His mighty power, but in His restraint, in His patience, and in His mercy.

Though we Christians cannot speak for God, we know that God permits evil at least to some degree because He gives us time to repent. He calls us to join in His greatness through the cross. For it isn’t religion that poisons everything, but sin. The one true faith is the faith that teaches us that we are indeed poisoned, and the antidote is found in the Lord’s blood and in His recreation of us. Nothing else will save us: not clever circular arguments against God’s existence, not turning the abomination of child-murder into a virtue, not the superstition of Darwinism, and certainly not the wise-cracks of a cynical non-believer.

God is indeed great. He tolerates far more than a lesser god would. And unlike the bluff and bluster of the frail and mortal Mr. Hitchens – whose first name means “bearer of Christ” – God’s greatness is most clearly shown when God, like the Holy Innocents, becomes a baby and is eventually put to death for our sins. Christ died for Christopher Hitchens too. God is great – and merciful.

“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

This sermon was very meaningful to me. There was an abundance of good news proclaimed. Your people and readers were well-fed today with the Bread of Life from heaven. They will be able to face the New Year with all its violence with courage and hope. I thank you.

Sometimes our faith does come across as “violent and irrational.” Last year I had an email exchange with an Islamic spokesman. I pointed out to him the violent “sword verses” in the Quran which advocate cutting off the heads of infidels, non Muslims. He responded by pointing out those “violent and irrational” verses in the Old Testament in which God is pictured as directing Israel to destroy entire towns of men, women, children, infants, and cattle. (I Samuel 15:1-3)

We Christians must be able to account for this and other “violent and irrational” acts committed by Israel against Gentiles. I responded to the Muslim that stories like this one were written back into the history of Israel later by Temple scribes to demonstrate that Israel was superior to all other peoples as God’s favorite people. This is NOT the Old Testament Covenant Word of the Lord and must be recognized as pure perversion of the Word of the Lord which came authentically through the faithful prophets. Otherwise, Muslims will be quick to point out that our religion is just as violent as is theirs.

I concluded my exchange by encouraging this Muslim to compare Jesus’ words with Muhammad’s words:

Muhammad: “Fight and slay the infidels (non-Muslims) wherever you find them, and siege them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every strategem of war.” (Surah 9:5)

Jesus: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy [like the Amalekites].’ But I tell you: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:43-45)

New Year's Blessings in the Season of Christmas!

Theophilus, "Follower of the Way"