Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sermon: Holy Innocents – 2011

28 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:13-18

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Church’s remembrance of the Holy Innocents – those young boys murdered by the evil so-called king Herod in his futile quest to prevent the Savior from coming into our world is unique. We don’t know who these children were, how many of them there were, who their parents were, or even if their parents were believers. These boys died without baptism – and yet we honor them as saints in the church. We call them “innocent” when Scripture tells us that no-one is without sin except for the One Herod was trying to exterminate.

And it is a disturbing thing to think about, how horrible this scene was, how evil one must be to order brave, hardened soldiers and police officers to wrench defenseless children from their mothers’ arms and put them to the sword. One can only imagine how much the soldiers must have resented being ordered to demonstrate the ultimate cowardice and dishonor, and how much trauma this left with them the rest of their lives.

But this horrible tragedy that we might wish to forget is worth remembering – for Scripture itself records it – and not only after the fact in our Gospel, but centuries before in our Old Testament. The Lord calls upon us to meditate on this holocaust while the world is basking in the glow of Christmas.

The harsh reality is that amid the warm sentiments of the season, we live in a cold and fallen world. We are all destined to die. We are in a cosmic war, and in any war, there are casualties – even innocent collateral damage and loss of life. And evil sometimes wins battles

We are at war against Satan, and sadly, we often ally ourselves with him.

When do we ally ourselves with the devil? When we sin, when we rebel against God, when we place our own will over that of the will of the Father. And we do it all the time.

This text is often used to show that abortion is a terrible sin. And indeed it is. It is murder. And it is easy for Christians to become almost hateful in their rhetoric against those who commit abortion. And while the church is to be a prophetic voice for good, a defender of the sanctity of life, an advocate for the little children who cannot speak for themselves – we are primarily in the business of forgiving sin by the blood of the most holy innocent of all: our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified one, the infant who was in Satan’s crosshairs and nearly in Herod’s bloody hands.

We must indeed speak up for human life and speak out against murder – which means that we must speak out against all forms of murder: including hateful thoughts, the attack of reputations by gossip, all forms of rage and anger – even when we think we are justified, the excessive use of force by those in authority, wars of aggression, the deaths of civilians in warfare, the abuse of children (physical or otherwise), the conviction of innocent people – in some cases resulting in the execution of the wrong people.

To be pro-life is to oppose abortion, but it is also to oppose hateful thoughts against our fellow human beings. For all murder begins with a single selfish thought: be it the desire for living conveniently child-free, or the compulsion to scheme and to take something from someone else. All sin is conceived in the sinful heart – Herod’s ancient sin of the atrocity of Bethlehem, and our sins that we commit here and now.

And until the Lord returns, there will continue to be “weeping and loud lamentation.” There will be innocent children killed in the womb, innocent prisoners killed on a gurney, innocent soldiers killed on a battlefield, innocent civilians killed by bombs and mines and IEDs – and innocent reputations destroyed by our careless words.

And, dear friends, we must repent of our murders – no matter what form they take. For we are all guilty of internal rage and hatred and wicked desire and rebellion against our Creator as was Herod. And if that weren’t true, we would not need a Savior to die innocently for the sake of our guilt.

And yet He does, brothers and sisters. Jesus’s manly blood was shed sacrificially “for us men and for our salvation” in our place. Jesus’s boyhood life was spared because these innocent boys were sacrificed by Herod in the place of Jesus. For Jesus was sacrificed by us poor miserable sinners by the Lord’s own consent to save us poor miserable sinners.

The only way to understand this travesty, this murder, this “Rachel weeping for her children,” the news of injustice and oppression that is in the newspaper every day – the only way any of this makes any kind of sense is when it is seen in light of the cross.

Our Lord died as the Holy Innocent for the sake of the unwholesomely guilty. The children of Bethlehem died as holy innocents for the sake of the Innocent One who came to forgive the sins of the world – including their own sins.

For indeed, the Holy Innocents were innocent of any crime leading to execution in the earthly sense, but all people are guilty of sin – even those yet unborn. We all need the Savior who came and Himself died innocently and unjustly, in order to make us just and innocent by His blood.

These unbaptized murdered children have been made innocent by the blood of the Lamb for whom their blood was shed as a sacrifice. And if indeed baptized infants can be believers, so can martyred infants. The Church recognizes this “baptism of blood” and honors these little ones who became the enemies of Satan, enemies of Herod, and enemies of the enemies of God. Jesus died for them even as they died for Him.

Jesus did not only die for those with mature minds and mouths old enough to confess Him. Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jesus even died for Herod’s sins and the sins of those who have killed the innocent of every age and of every time. All of our murders – be they abortions, gossip, hateful rage, doing harm to another person, or harboring evil thoughts – separate us from God. But the good news is that separation has been closed, the gap has been bridged, by the One who escaped Satan’s wrath and Herod’s sword, Jesus Christ our Savior. It is He, the only truly Holy Innocent, who calls us to repent of our sins and come to Him to receive pardon and everlasting life. And even when we must endure the cross of injustice in this world, we know that the cross leads onward to the tomb, the grave of Jesus that was left empty at His resurrection.

Rachel’s tears of sadness will be turned to tears of joy as those little ones who are no more will be among those who are no more dead, but living. When we confess our sins – whether these sins against life are sins of thought, word, or deed, we know that the blood of the Innocent One covers us, pardons us, a restores us to life.

The whole point of Christmas – the coming of the living Christ into our dying world – is also the whole point of Easter, as the crucified Christ paid for our sins and rose from the grave, not only outwitting Herod and the devil, but destroying the power of sin and vanquishing the bitterness of death. Indeed, the resurrection is the only thing that will comfort Rachel, that will right the wrong committed against these Holy Innocents, that will redeem all of us murderers and sinners who rightfully deserve nothing but death and hell. So dear friends, let us repent! Let us confess! Let us receive life!

And indeed let us be that prophetic voice in the world advocating for life – life unborn, life imprisoned, life around the world, lives in torture chambers, lives in abject poverty, lives under the domination of tyranny. But most of all, let us be prophetic voices of eternal life, of the forgiveness of sin, of peace and reconciliation between men, and between men and God. Let us bring the comfort of the empty tomb to the otherwise inconsolable Rachel, and let us look forward with great joy to the day when, in Christ, death will be no more.


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

No comments: