Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sermon: Christmas 2 - 2011

2 January 2011 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.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,” the angel of the Lord instructed Joseph, “for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.”

Of course, we know that Satan’s attempt to use Herod to snuff out the life of the Christ child was futile – even as his attempt centuries earlier to use Pharaoh to wipe out the life of the infant Moses did not bear fruit. Of course, many innocents were slaughtered by these wicked accomplices of the devil. “Collateral damage” is the term we use today, as evil takes its toll even when it fails to accomplish its goal.

For whether we’re talking about Pharaoh or Herod, Nero or Diocletian, Hitler or Stalin – Satan has used, uses, and will continue to use powerful men to try to thwart the will of God, even as he sought to persecute the prophets who preceded Christ and to crucify Christians who follow the cross of Christ, the Crucified One.

And just as Satan failed to destroy Moses, the savior of Israel, and our Blessed Lord, the Savior of the World, neither will Satan destroy the Word proclaimed by the Church. The devil does indeed claim “collateral damage,” dear Christians, and has claimed the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters in the last century alone, but he will never destroy the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, and the very same Word of the cross, preached by the Church: the Word that has not only the power, but also the promise, to save sinners the world over.

For even as the Lord spoke to Joseph, the Lord’s stepfather, and told Him to take the infant Christ to Egypt for safety, the Lord also spoke to Jacob, the father of an earlier Joseph, telling him to join his children in Egypt for safety and to be saved from death. And in the very bodies of these Israelites was the Seed, the yet unborn body of the One destined to crush the head of the devil and save all of us from our sins and from the grave: our Lord Jesus Christ.

And while we mourn the loss of those who suffer for the sake of Christ, we rejoice that the Lord Jesus suffers for our sake, taking away our sin, winning life for us, and defeating the devil. This is how it is that those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ find life. And those who choose to save their own lives at the expense of Christ ultimately lose their lives. Jesus has already won the war for us, dear friends, even when we (as we inevitably will in every manifestation of warfare) lose battles and suffer casualties.

The Holy Innocents were killed in the place of the Christ Child, owing to Satan’s failure. But the Lord Jesus Christ has come to die in the place of the Holy Innocents, owing to His own victory over Satan at the cross and at the tomb. Satan brought death upon the children in his futile attempt to destroy the Son of God, while Jesus brings eternal death upon the Satan, giving life to the children of God.

And while we mourn with Rachel, who refused to be comforted, we are comforted by the promise of the resurrection, the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over Satan, over sin, and over death itself.

This is why St. Peter, who would find Himself persecuted and put to death on a cross for the sake of the Crucified One, can exhort us to “rejoice” when the “fiery trial… comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” He tells us not to be surprised at this.

For how can we consider it strange, dear brothers and sisters, when Satan attacks us, when the devil persecutes our brethren around the world, when the old evil foe seeks to tempt us and discourage us and separate us from Christ and His love? And what greater fool’s errand could there be, dear friends, for we bear the promise in the Word (the Word that cannot lie) that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Satan is burdened with one failure after another, even if he is able to make us suffer, to persecute us, and even kill many of us.

But hear again the word of our martyred and yet victorious brother, the apostle Peter, in his encouragement: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also 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.”

For we worship a God who is willing to come to us, even in danger, even in vulnerable flesh, even in the form of a helpless baby in need of protection from sinful and imperfect men. We worship a Father and Creator who takes risks – for He created us knowing that we would rebel against Him, reject Him, choose Satan over Him, and even kill His prophets and crucify His Son. But for our loving and merciful God, our Savior and Redeemer, no risk is too great to save us, no sacrifice too dear, no love too costly – and yet it is all given to us as a free gift.

That, dear friends, is the message not only of Christmas, but of Christianity, not only of our Lord’s flight to Egypt to be saved from the evil one, but the flight of God’s Word all over the Word to save us from the evil one.

For the “Word by whom all things were made” makes His way from the Father by the Spirit to the womb, from the womb to the manger, from the manger to the cross, from the cross to the tomb, and from the tomb to the Word proclaimed to the glory of the Father and in the unity of the Spirit. He has descended to our world to save us, even as He was taken to Egypt to save Him.

For Jesus was saved from the devil that we might be saved from the devil. And He came to suffer in time so that we will not have to suffer in eternity. And so any temporary suffering of ours, any “collateral damage” meted out to us or to our brotherhood for His sake only serves to remind us that He has suffered for our sake to give us eternal life.

His victory is our victory, even as His life is our life.

For “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name,” the glorious name “Christian” given to us, dear brothers and sisters, by the God into whose name we are baptized, through whose name we have salvation, by whose name we have victory over sin, death, and the devil, and that is…

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

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