Matthew 2:13-23 (1st Sunday after Christmas—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 26, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Matthew 2:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “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.” But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
I would imagine that most of you have read Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If you haven’t read the story, maybe you’ve seen the classic holiday cartoon or the movie. If so, you will remember how everyone in Who-ville loved Christmas. Everyone, that is, except the Grinch. The Grinch hated Christmas and he came up with a plan to spoil the joy of Christmas in Who-ville. He dressed up like Santa and went down into Who-ville and stole all the Christmas presents, trees, decorations, roast beast, and the last can of Who-hash. It was a terrible thing to do. According to the story, the Grinch hated Christmas because his heart was two sizes too small. He was selfish and hated to see anyone else who was happy, enjoying themselves. But the Grinch’s plan didn’t work. The people in Who-ville knew that the real joy of Christmas doesn’t come from presents, decorations, and food.
The story of the Grinch is not a true story. But today’s Gospel lesson shares with us the story of a real “Grinch” who tried to steal the very first Christmas. No, on second thought, “Grinch” is too nice of a word to describe King Herod. He is truly “the monster of the Christmas story.”
Herod took the snub of the wise men with all the rage of the deluded and suspicious old paranoid that he had become. “Ordering the ruthless massacre of all male babies two years old and under in Bethlehem and vicinity, he hoped that the infant “king” must certainly have been among the victims. Estimating a town of some 2000 inhabitants at the time, about 20 male babies would have fallen into this category and been slain. The scene of mothers madly trying to hush their crying infants so as not to be discovered, only to see them snatched out of their arms by Herod’s soldiers, thrown to the floor, and run through with swords sends a bristle of shock into the Christmas story so utterly [dissonant] with the rest of it.”
Herod, the monster of Christmas, seems to ruin the whole thing for us this morning. Here we are back in God’s house 24 hours after our Christmas Festival Service and the joy is stolen from us by this maniac king. As the prophet Jeremiah has spoken, “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 the very region where Old Testament Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin, other children of the promise lost their lives to wicked King Herod’s sword, and their mothers wept and could not be consoled. “The mothers wept because they were [left without] their children, as if their insides were being torn from them.”
Those of us who have lost children to death can understand this kind of grief. Those who have not can only empathize and give their sympathy. In my experience, there is no grief greater than that experienced in the death of a child, no matter the child’s age. Many of you, like me, have experienced the death of your children through miscarriage. It is a gut-wrenching thing to go through, even for the father. Some of you have experienced the stillbirth of your child. My heart continues to ache for my brother and his wife at the loss of Molly. Stillbirth almost makes miscarriage merciful, but not without deep pain and grief. The grief of loss grows even greater when a child that you have known and loved dies. Some of you have experienced the loss of children as they were growing and in their prime. Some have experienced the profound grief of losing your young adult or adult son or daughter. The grief is real. The pain is intense. The heartache, while it lessens, never fully disappears. And so we think of the anguish of those Bethlehem mothers and fathers when the monster of Christmas destroyed their lives.
Then we ask the question, “Where was God?” Where was God in the middle of this death? Was this God’s purpose? I’ve asked those questions about the losses in my life. Was it God’s plan that death take three of my unborn children from this world? Was it God’s plan that Molly not live? Was it God’s plan that Philip Johnson be killed in combat or Lorne Stevens killed without cause? The answer is no! Although God takes and uses evil deeds such as the slaughter of Bethlehem’s little ones to bring His Scriptural plan and promise to fruition, Matthew avoids declaring that it was God’s purpose that the children in Bethlehem die. We cannot blame God for the death of these “innocents” just as we cannot and do not blame God for miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of our children in any way. God is not the author of evil. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are. Death is a result of sin in the world. Yet God is always working to turn what is meant for evil into good.
God’s Son, Jesus Christ, for whose sake the Bethlehem innocents died, would bring an end to sin, the devil, and the last enemy—death. In defeating death, Jesus Himself would die, but not because Herod willed it. Jesus had to die, but not on Herod’s schedule. Since it was not His time, the baby Jesus was protected from Herod by God’s divine intervention. Following the angel’s word, Joseph led his family to safety in Egypt. God was accomplishing His plan of salvation in Jesus Christ in spite of Herod’s wickedness, and in so doing, Jesus has paid the price for Herod’s sins, for our sins, and for the sins of the world.
Jesus had to die for Herod’s sins; He had to die for our sins. He had to die because of our doubt and our fear and our unbelief and all of our daily sins. Jesus would die when the time was right—on Calvary’s cross. He would suffer death for us so that we might have eternal life. In His resurrection, Jesus forever broke the power of death. Death lies defeated in its own grave, no longer to have mastery over Christ or over those of us who are in Christ by faith.
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those of us who have lost infants and children to death know that our children have the victory of Christ. Our children are in God’s presence, experiencing His loving care right now, as are the innocents of Bethlehem. Our children are in heaven, and we will see them again. Those children are not lost. In the ages to come, our gracious God will show us our children and we will recognize and know them. That’s the victory over death that they, and we, have in Jesus! That’s our hope and our comfort in the face of loss. Jesus has defeated death and won life for us and for our children, just as He did for those little ones who died in Bethlehem so long ago.
Jesus Christ, the Child of Bethlehem, is God and Lord. Christ is the Victor over sin, death, and the devil. He is still active in human history. Christ the Lord is still in control. He continues to lead little children and adults into the safety of His Church through the waters of Holy Baptism. He continues to feed and to nourish His Church with His Holy Word and with His precious body and blood, given and shed for our forgiveness and life! Our Lord Jesus continues to announce and give His forgiveness to all who confess their sins and seek His mercy.
In Jesus, the “grinches” and monsters of Christmas lie in defeat. Sin is conquered. Death is vanquished. Satan is crushed. We have forgiveness and eternal life. We have comfort and hope in the midst of the losses in life. We have joy and peace in Him who is Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Paul L. Maier. In the Fullness of Time. © Kregel, 1991. Pg. 64