Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23
There were these boy children. All age two or younger. Innocents. Totally without fault. Killed! Does this remind us of the children today who are being killed while in a regular school day where they belong? Well, the boy children in Matthew 2:13-23 were without blemish. Their parents were not targeted because of anything they had done except to have a boy child in the last two years.
The area of this killing would have been around Bethlehem where Jesus was born because his parents had to be there due to a ruling that all people in Israel had to travel to the place of their family’s ancestry to register. Bethlehem is a small town, close to Jerusalem.
On the Sunday after Christmas every third year, we have this account. I purposely did not say story since the word “story” reminds us of something that may not be true. This is an account of an action that actually happened. It is part of history. King Herod is involved!
Last Sunday, December 22, my senior pastor showed a picture from “Christian Century” to our Confirmation Class. It was a fascinating picture. We were supposed to spot the main idea which was the baby Jesus without a place to lie while behind this “baby with no place to lie” is an empty stone casket. This reminds us that the baby was laid in a tomb after a short thirty-three years. Of course, we know what happened following the tomb, the cave in the side of a hill. Matthew says that the tomb was hewn in rock by Joseph of Arimathea. We know about the resurrection on the third day. So the tomb part and the stone casket do not need to frighten us even though we grieve for the suffering that Jesus bore for our salvation.
It was quite interesting to explore this picture of the bedless baby Jesus in front of the empty stone casket. Several of the Confirmands noticed that in the top left corner, in the sky, was an object which was surely a witch. Why was there a witch in the Christmas scene that also had a stone casket? Because evil was still around. Evil is still around to this day. Recognizing evil is rather important so we can stay at a distance. So here comes the evil from the manger scene.
It has to do with power! The king, King Herod, was in a jealous rage. These wise men who came from the East by following the star, accidentally alerted King Herod to this baby King come to earth at this time in history. In his jealous anger, King Herod ordered all boy babies age two and under to be killed so that this baby King would surely be one of them. It is assumed that it could have taken two years for these wise men to travel from their homes in the East.
This was evil at work. However, we like to say that God is stronger than evil, particularly Satan. As soon as the wise men had visited this young Jesus and Joseph and Mary, God sent an angel to tell Joseph to escape King Herod’s territory by traveling to Egypt. I picture Mary and Jesus riding on the donkey again and Joseph walking. I suppose I saw a picture once upon a time of this scene. The donkey does not seem to be documented in the Bible. While in Egypt, they did not hide. It is believed that they became part of the community where they settled. It is believed that Joseph established his carpentry trade there. Did they ever return to Israel? Yes, they did. How did they know the right time? No instant round-the-world news in those days.
God sent an angel again to Joseph to say it was time to return to Israel. When this Holy Family returned to the Holy Land, they learned that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was on the throne. Joseph carefully stayed clear of a possible continuation of persecution. This Holy Family, returned to the home area of Galilee and there Joseph and Jesus continued with carpentry work while Jesus was taught the knowledge and way of living in a Jewish home. Joseph and Mary had children who were brothers and sisters to Jesus.
Now this story seems to be good. But let us not forget the innocent children. It was not only Jesus who died for our salvation, these children gave their lives in the process. May these innocents be experiencing a wonderful eternal life with Jesus in the place we call heaven. May we thank these children in our prayers. While we are praying for these innocents, let us include all the children today who are the targets of abuse, poverty, or neglect. May they also have abundant life from this day forward. Let us ask God to draw near to all children; to these children who are truly sisters and brothers of Jesus as much as the actual step-brothers and step-sisters of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Let us include the innocents who are the victims of violence, these children being killed in their schools during regular school days. May it end, Lord God, we shall pray.
This account of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt brings with it the prophecies of old. We hear from Jeremiah, from Hosea, from Isaiah flowing with purpose right into the life of Jesus with the culmination of these predictions, these weavings of the plan of God through the prophets right into reality.
We have these words from Jeremiah: “A voice was heard from Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
From Hosea 11:1, comes “Out of Egypt, I have called my son.”
“He will be called a Nazarene.” Our New Revised Standard Version of the Bible uses the word “Nazorean.” We have these words in our Matthew passage today but there is no such phrase in the Old Testament. One of my study Bibles explains that a synonym for Nazarene is “despised.” However, some scholars think that here Nazarene means the synonym of “branch” as in Isaiah 11:1 which says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” From Isaiah 4:2 we find, “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.”
Yes, the childhood of Jesus was spent in Nazareth. You may know churches called “Church of the Nazarene” which refers to Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town in the larger area called Galilee.
I become excited when I notice these connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Stopping after Malachi is anti-climactic. The fulfillment bounces out of the New Testament. My hope is that these prophets from Old Testament times have the privilege of knowing that the words from their lips were fulfilled. It would be rewarding for these suffering prophets to be assured that they were speaking truth and not just vain words that they thought God was feeding to them.
Some scholars would have us believe that we are reading too much into these connections. I say “Go for it.” If it looks like a connection, if a connection seems to fall into place, take is as such. We have the Israelites being led from Egypt by Moses who is being led by God. We have Jesus being led from Egypt by his parents who are being led by God. Praise the Lord! These matches are not coincidence. These matches, these connections, are the stuff of faith.
If we have Herods in our lives, and many of us do, let God lead us out of our own Egypts. This is not to say that Egypt of Old Testament times and at the present time are basically evil or a giant people trap. In these two examples, people found themselves in Egypt as temporary refuge. Notice the word “temporary.” I use the term “Egypts” as temporary refuges. The Israelites became a nation in Egypt because Joseph with eleven brothers, sons of Jacob, was sent to Egypt by his ten older brothers because Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son and the brothers were rightfully jealous. Long story short, the whole family, these eleven brothers and even father came to Egypt themselves due to a famine in their own homeland. But, God did not intend for the Israelites to stay in Egypt, so he led them from Egypt back to the Promised Land under the guidance of Moses.
Jesus was only sent to Egypt temporarily. The angel of the Lord appeared to signal the temporary time had ended so back home it was.
Where are you temporarily? Are you in a comfortable spot in your life or a horrid, miserable place in your life? If you answer yes to the second choice, ask God to give a signal to you and then watch for some odd way that the signal arrives in your consciousness. If you answered yes to the first choice, pray that God will keep you there. We remember that God is an upside-down God, an inside-outside God. If you are feeling comfortable, you may want to read Matthew 25:31-46.
God blesses us if we move from our comfortable, protected existence to focus our eyes and ears on the needs of the people who are in a horrid, miserable place. We are brothers and sisters; we are each children of God so we should be thinking equality. We should be alert for the innocents. Who are the innocents in our society today? A person with any kind of a prison record could be oppressed by society. The word “innocents” seems to indicate being “sinless.” However, anyone, who is being oppressed for something that the person has done in the past, according to my thinking, is an innocent in our society; innocent in the sense of being penalized without any hope of overcoming the stigma; without feeling the love of God and brothers and sisters in Jesus.
Who is society? We are society. We are part of a community whether we want to be or not. If our home has a closed heart to the innocents, we are being oppressive. We are killing the spirit of these persons. We are cheating each of these persons from gaining dignity, from being helped to reach dignity of manner, dignity of thinking, dignity of finding the plan which God has planned for these people; “… a plan to prosper you and not to harm you.” In sympathetic resonance with the innocents, let us give attention to the people in our lives who are suffering under the tyranny of twisted justice. Let us bring this gift of Jesus with forgiveness and turn-the-other-cheek living to the innocents in our lives. Look near, the person could be in your sight now. Amen.