Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sermon: Holy Innocents – 2016

28 December 2016

Text: Matt 2:13-18 (Jer 31:15-17, Rev 14:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

While the world has already moved on from Christmas – already looking forward to New Year’s Eve, and some even to the beginning of Carnival, many shops pushing Valentine’s Day, and sports fans to the college bowls and the Super Bowl, the Church, by contrast, has put on the brakes as we continue our 12-day celebration of Christmas.

Today’s celebration is one marked by darkness in the midst of light, and sadness in the midst of joy.  We celebrate the memory of the youngest saints in our calendar, put there by a monstrous act of evil.

In his desire to attack the Christ Child and a longshot attempt to upset the divine plan of redemption, Satan inspired one of his own to commit a heinous act – the Slaughter of the Innocents.  Knowing that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, the wicked King Herod ordered the young boys of this little village to be put to death.  It was a shocking act that demonstrated the depravity, perversity, and deeply-set malevolence that infests mankind.

The very thing Jesus came to seek and destroy.

And so a “voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted.”  Only a mother who has lost a child – especially to violence – can really identify with this weeping of Rachel.

These innocent children gave their lives as an offering for the Innocent Lamb, who in turn was to die for them, as an offering that saves them and makes them worthy of eternal life.  The prophet Jeremiah was quoted by Matthew: “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.”

“They are no more.” It sounds so stark and final, as unbending and as unresponsive as the grave itself.  

And yet, Jeremiah’s Word doesn’t stop with Matthew’s quotation.  He continues: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.”

These little ones will “come back from the land of the enemy” – that is, the grave.  They will come back “to their own country” – that is, to their own people in the land of the living.  For in our weeping and lamentation, we dare not forget why our Lord came in the first place. He came to the manger to sojourn to the cross.  He was born in order to die.  And he was to die in order to conquer death.  He lives so that we shall also live.  That promise is for us and for our children, including the children slain that horrific day of holocaust in Bethlehem: a day that will be avenged in the fullness of time.

It is just this kind of evil lurking in the hearts of man that provoked the Lord’s rescue mission in the wasteland that we have made of creation.  He came in order to save the Blessed Innocents as well as to cure the cursed guilty, to remove evil and its effects “as far as the curse is found.”

The evil that infests our world also infests our hearts.  While it is easy to focus on Herod’s evil, and the wickedness of Hitler and Stalin and Mao and ISIS, we need to keep one eye looking in the mirror.

The great writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned in Soviet labor camps and wrote about the horrors he witnessed, said, “If only it were so simple!  If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Dear friends, only One was willing, the only One completely on the good side of that dividing line, motivated by love for creation and obedience to the Father’s will, our Lord Jesus had his own heart punctured by evil, and out poured blood and water – blood shed for us and offered to us in the chalice; water given to us as a sacred cleansing and applied to us at the font.  The Lord’s heart was broken by the evil in the world, and allowed evil to break His heart for the sake of offering to all men – to all who bear the burden of sin, a redemption, a call to repentance, a second chance.

Scripture does not teach us that the various kings bearing the name Herod ever repented.  They continued to vex the people of God for their entire evil reign.  But their reign was to come to an end. 

The innocent boys of Bethlehem, however, were given that second chance according to the Scriptures.  And they “shall come back” – even as we and all the dead in Christ shall.

That is a Christmas present and a Christmas promise.  To defy Satan, to destroy death, to repair the damage done to creation, and make all things new is the very reason for the Christ’s child’s birth.  For even though all have sinned, and all bear the stain of evil – even the Holy Innocents who inherited the sinful nature from their parents – there is yet another promise and prophecy concerning the redeemed, those “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”

For “these have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouths no lie was found, for they are blameless.”

So, dear friends, let us celebrate.  It is a bittersweet Fourth Day of Christmas, but the bitterness of the weeping of Rachel will only sweeten the joy of eternity, when her children “come back” and the real meaning of Christmas is applied to the universe by the Lamb whose crucified body was earlier laid “away in a manger.”  Thus says the Lord, my brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas.  Amen.

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

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