Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:7–14, ESV)
(from and outline by Joel Biermann, Concordia Journal Fall 2013)
Grace and peace to you from our Savior Jesus Christ.
Well it'll be nice to get back to normal want it? Christmas is nice, New Year's can be fun (if you don't overdo it!), but normal is nice. What's with this text anyway? It doesn't seem very Christmasy. God giving extraordinary loving kindness to Israel and their response is rebellion. And then returning to the Lord once again and he forgives. It's an endless refrain. A familiar story. But, it seems out of season. Let's hear something more about the Baby of Bethlehem.
Yes, let's not forget that the Baby was born. Let's also not forget that once the baby arrives there's no going back. Any couple can tell you the baby changes everything. There's a new routine. A new emphasis. This week we still want the baby. But next week when we take down the tree, we might rather pack the baby back in the box with the rest of the Nativity scene and let him stay there till next year.
But, this baby, this Christmas baby, won't be packed away. Because this baby is no ordinary baby. The changes he brings are not the same as midnight feedings and new bills. This Baby brings something much more. He has come to stay. And he comes on his own terms. He comes with an agenda. He is the King. He comes to bring his kingdom. A kingdom can only have one King. That's the problem the children of Israel had. They rebelled against their one King. It's an old story. God acts to bring salvation. Human beings rebel. There actually is no choice. It is a consequence of our fallen, sinful nature. Without the baby, we are blind, dead, enemies of God and we want to be our own King, and the new King born in the manger is a threat.
We think we can make it on our own. We think we are self-reliant. We think we have charge over our lives. It's an illusion. It's an illusion that began in the garden when Adam and Eve thought they knew what was better for them than God. What they wanted was not theirs to have. They thought they wanted what they didn't actually need. The illusion is brought full force to our eyes and ears through cultural inputs. Movies and television and music assure us that we are the master of our own destiny. And the illusion is so strong that in spite of the evidence, our broken relationships, our inability to do what we know we should do, our lack of care for our neighbors, and our insistence on our own way, that we think we have everything in control. But we fail daily in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and left undone. We fail to love God with our whole heart. And so, we resist the new King is strongly as Herod who sought to kill him, too.
Herod is the great evil man in the Christmas story who would dare to strike out and kill a helpless child. He strikes out in a violent attack against the one who would be king in his place. There we stand. In Bethlehem, the baby comes with an agenda. He is the Lord. He is the King. There can be only one. We cannot rule ourselves and bow before the true King. The true King will not be content until he rules all, even every aspect of our own lives. He comes to remove sin from your life and mine. Even the sin I don't want to get rid of. If you think about it, Herod's reaction isn't really that surprising. This baby King changes everything. This baby comes, and makes demands, and someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to die. There's no getting around it. This baby King threatens to kill my rule over my own kingdom. Actually, this baby King, threatens to kill me. And I won't have it.
But maybe I will. Because I need a Savior. I am unable to rule over my own kingdom. My rule leaves my life in shambles. My failures are stacked up. My relationship with God is shattered by sin. Someone is going to get hurt. And if not me than the baby. And he does. In fact it's why he was born. What Herod tried to do by force, the baby does willingly. He gives himself into death on the cross. In the fight to reign over my own life God will win. He will do whatever is necessary, including sacrificing himself. My sin and rebellion is punished by God in the baby on the cross.
And I will die. In Holy Baptism, my old sinful nature is drowned to death. My rebellious nature is killed. And the baby's claim on my life is set forever. I am beat by the baby. All that happened with Israel is repeated. I am raised from death to new life.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.