Sunday, January 01, 2023

Matthew 2:13-18; Holy Innocents; January 1, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
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.”” (Matthew 2:13–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting, deadly, horrible story. A king so paranoid that he would kill innocent children rather than face the possible threat of being dethroned. He doesn’t understand Jesus at all. He fears for his throne, but Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It isn’t out of character for this king, who had his children, wives, friends, not to mention his enemies, killed, to give the order to have a few dozen children slaughtered. It is also reported that Herod gave another order, that upon his death, that thousands of city officials were to be escorted into the arena to be killed. The king wanted to be sure that on his death there would be mourning. In his fear, he conspires with the Magi to find Jesus, and kill him. When that fails, he kills the babies two years and younger to prevent Jesus’ reign.

Given the population of Bethlehem it was probably under twenty infants. The early church exaggerated the account for emphasis on the evil nature of it. But numbers hardly make it more or less evil. But given the numbers, it is no wander that no historian records the event. It would have hardly shown up in the news. It is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such evil. We call this event the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Very young children killed for no reason. We’d like to know why. But God doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know. In his Word he only tells us what we need to know. It is one question you may be anxious to get an answer for when you stand before Jesus.

So, Herod wants to prevent Jesus from becoming king. He does his worst. But the angel warns Joseph. The baby and his mother are spirited away to Egypt in the cover of darkness. Jesus is safe from Herod.

It isn’t Jesus’ time to be killed. So, Herod’s plots will necessarily fail. That’s how God’s plans work. People can do their best (or worst) to prevent them. But God is in control, and we see it plainly here.

They must seem dark days for Joseph and Mary. A king out to destroy them. Uprooted from home and family and work. Spending time in a foreign country. It wasn’t part of their plans for their family. How upsetting, unsettling it must have been. But did you notice how faithful Joseph is? (Who among us has been confronted by angels telling us what to do?). From being told to marry Mary, to sneaking away to Egypt, to returning. It seems it was difficult for him to get a good night’s sleep. Still, he does exactly what God asks. This is why we celebrate Joseph as Jesus’ protector. He faithfully does what he is given to do. And then having done what God gave him to do, he disappears from the scene.

Of course, evil people can’t thwart God’s plans. What kind of a God would he be if they could? Jesus came as a human being, God with Us to save us from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. His time to do that wasn’t in a house in Bethlehem. It was many years later, on the cross. He had much to do to make himself known. Miracles to perform. People to teach. Establish his church and sacraments. It was all God’s plan for saving people from the second death in hell. The bible tells us as much when it says things like, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” And “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” Strong reminders that God’s will is always done. All that Jesus did is described by the prophets. It is all done in order that you could be redeemed. It is all done in order that you could spend eternity with Jesus forever. Salvation is God’s primary plan for the world. It can’t be stopped. His love for your is such that he is willing for his only son to die a horrible death on the cross, to assure it.

Well, that’s the big stuff, isn’t it? What about your life and mine. Does God make plans for you and me that can’t be stopped by evil people? It is what he told the prophet Jerimiah in his darkest days. And just look at what he suffered in his life. His “friends” plotted to kill him. He was thrown into a cistern to die. He struggled with kings and false prophets that always seemed to have the upper hand. And yet God said to him:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11–13, ESV)
It is a very personal promise to Jeremiah. He is promised to have “a future and a hope”. In other words, God’s plans for Jeremiah couldn’t be stopped. In his darkest days, I think it was quite a comfort to him to have such an unstoppable destiny in God’s love.

And just think how absurd it sounds to the world’s ears, that God cares enough about you that he wants to make sure you get enough sleep. That is what he did for Elijah in his darkest days. After he had killed the 300 prophets of Baal and was running for his life. He was complaining that he was the only faithful person left in the world. God said something like, “I see you are grouchy, eat and take a nap.”

After Jesus survived Herod’s attempts on his life, he says things like that to you.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–31, ESV)
If God’s attention to the details of life are such that he even knows when a single sparrow dies, just think about what that means for your life. If he numbers the hairs of your head (easier on some than others), what does that say about the plans he has for you? Will the “keeper of sparrows” and the “numberer of hairs” let anything stop them? Of course not. He plans “a future and a hope” for you. And it all begins with his having done everything necessary to save you. It is the most important thing that he does through Jesus. Canceling your debt of sin, and along with the Holy Spirit he (according to Martin Luther) keeping you in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
And how about this list:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)
You can expand that list and add cancer, pandemics, government persecution, wokism, trouble at work and in your family, and even snowstorms and mostly even you. Such is God’s great love for you that even these can’t separate you from it. Such is God’s great love for you that even these can’t stop his plans for you.

I don’t know the details of God’s plan for your life. You don’t know the details of God’s plan for your life. What I do know is this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
“All things”, St. Paul says, not just the things that we think are good, but all of them. The things we see as good, bad, and ugly. God promises they are all “for good”.

Someday, you and I will die (unless Jesus comes first). We will pass through death and stand before Jesus our Savior. Then all that happened to us, everything, will be seen clearly. We will understand fully how it all worked out for good. We will see our problems, troubles, joys, all of them, in light of the salvation he promises. There will be no doubt about it. We will see how everything in our life is connected to that moment. And then, with our resurrection on the last day, we will live in the sublime joy of it all. All our troubles will be behind us. All our cares will be behind us. All that will be left is joy. Joy in what Jesus has done for you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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