Christmas 2 – January 2, 2011 – Matthew 2:12-23
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
So here we are, the second Sunday after Christmas. We are smack dab right in the middle of the Christmas season – we’re even still singing Christmas hymns here this morning. Let’s be honest – it seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? That’s because we don’t think along the lines of the Church calendar, which gives us 12 days in which to celebrate Christmas – we tend to think like the world. It seems the world tires so quickly of Christmas. The world rushes to get to Christmas, the stores have the decorations out by Halloween – we’ve got to get to Christmas, and there is this massive frenzy and then. . . it’s done. The decorations start getting pulled down, even though we are still in the Christmas season, even though we are only up to day 9 of the 12 days of Christmas. The decorations come down – last Tuesday I watched them pull down a tree at a mall in Wichita. In the stores the Christmas lights are now on clearance and well picked over. Yesterday we got a quick Happy New Year, it was given and now. . . now what? I guess you can buy your Valentine’s Day Chocolates early if you want – they are out for sale now. On to the next thing. Everything just speeds on by so quickly in the world, and nothing seems to stick with you. It’s as though the world is saying, if the peace and joy of Christmas didn’t stay with you, if the New Years’ parties are a thing of the past, well, maybe Valentine’s day will bring you some love.
This is the way of the world. There is a never ending race to get the latest and greatest, to move on to the next big thing, always going and going and going – never satisfied. And this stands out so much at Christmas time because we’ve spent all this time building up to Christmas, to the coming of the Prince of Peace, to shouts of peace on earth, goodwill to man! And even then, with calls for peace, for rest, the world doesn’t slow down, onto the next thing. There is a reason for this. While in the world you might hear calls for peace, while singers might sing it with great accord, this world doesn’t know what real peace is. God, however, knows real peace and what will bring about peace – and that is the point of our Gospel lesson this morning.
It’s a shocking lesson – the slaughter of the innocents. King Herod, in his greed and lust for power, determines to wipe out the Christ child in His youth. Someone is born a king, someone born a Prince of Peace? Not on my watch! And so first Herod tries to trick the Wise men into telling him who Jesus is – that way there could be a nice precision strike – send some thugs and wipe out the Kid. The wise men though were warned away by God – so Herod goes to plan two. Wipe them out – all of them. If you can’t be sure which kid you need to kill, just kill ‘em all. What we hear this morning are some of the most violent words in all of the Scriptures – “And he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under.” If you don’t know which kid it is that you are supposed to murder in cold blood, then kill 20, 30, maybe more - however many where there. This is one of the coldest, cruelest, most despicable acts we see in the Scriptures.
So, how then does this fit in the season of Christmas? What was Matthew doing including this nugget in the Gospel – couldn’t we have just skipped this? Matthew is making a very clear and poignant point here – in the sinful, fallen world, we don’t see worldly peace. We see violence and hatred and murder and death. We see a place where even the birth of Christ Jesus is met with hatred and violence. That’s the way the world is – full of violence and fear, and being a Christian isn’t some get out of jail free card. Ask the Christians in Iraq who were afraid to hold Christmas day services for fear of agitating the Muslims there. Ask the Christians who are hiding in China, who are being slaughtered in the Sudan. Or even consider the 17 killed in Egypt because they attended a New Year’s Eve service and a bomb went off outside their church. This text is their reality – the idea of a squad coming and wiping out the children of a town or village isn’t that odd a thing to them.
This is the world into which Christ came. Not some sappy, sentimental hallmark card – but a world full of pain and suffering – a world where so often there is no peace. I ran into a gal this week – her son is a military doctor over in Afghanistan. Her prayers for peace aren’t just something nice to say, they involve her son’s squad not running into land mines. In this world, wicked, evil men will seek to abuse power, to harm, and to kill. And not just the powerful. You and I, we are wicked and evil enough. We will seek to get the better of our neighbor, to complain about things until they are done our way, to berate, besmirch, belittle people we don’t like – we harm, we wound, we destroy. We shouldn’t, and as we are Christians we know we shouldn’t, we probably even try not to, but I’m sure every one of us here, if we look back on the past week can find a few, “I can’t believe I did that, I can’t believe what a jerk I was” moments. Sinners in a sinful world.
So then – this is the world Christ Jesus came into. But in this text, God warns Joseph in a dream – get Jesus out of there. Take Him to Egypt. Then, when Herod is dead, again, God sends Joseph an angel – you can come back now. So, what is this? Is this God playing favorites? Is that the point of this text – this world is a lousy place, but if you are good with God you’ll be off scot free? Again – go ask the Christians in Iraq, in the Sudan, in Egypt if that is what this text means. This text isn’t about Jesus avoiding pain and suffering – it’s about Jesus being preserved so as to take up pain and suffering in full for your salvation from a wicked world, it’s about Jesus coming to bring us real peace.
Matthew is very concerned with the fulfillment of prophecy here. Three times he speaks about the prophets. First we hear this: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Our of Egypt I called My Son.’” By this, Matthew lets you know that everything Jesus does is going to be about salvation. For the people of Israel, when they talked about God, about His love for them, they would say, “The Lord God, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” By pointing out this prophecy from Hosea, Matthew is telling us that the Old Testament is paving the way for Christ, that He will be the new and better Passover Lamb whose blood is shed not just for one house, but for the whole world. Then we hear about the slaughter of the innocents – “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.’” The prophets often preached about violence and wickedness in the world. It’s not what God wants, it’s not what God desires, but it’s the way of things in a sinful world. And so far we see this – that while we are in a sinful world, the Messiah comes to bring salvation.
And of course, we get the very end – “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.’” Now this is fascinating. There is no quote in the Old Testament where it says, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” That phrase isn’t there. Well, what’s Matthew doing? Is he just making stuff up? No – this neat – he’s summing them up. Note that Matthew says, “what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” Prophets. Plural. Multiple prophets – all the prophets. And what do the prophets point to with Jesus? That He will be hated, reviled, scorned, and mocked. Think of all the prophecies from the Old Testament that speak to the Messiah who would suffer – all those that we will hear throughout Lent. And what Matthew does here is He sums all those prophecies about mockery up in one phrase – “He shall be called a Nazarene.” We think of Nazareth as a good place – it’s where Jesus is from. That’s not how they thought in Christ’s day. Nazareth was backwater, it was Podunk. To say you were like someone from Nazareth was an insult. Even the Apostle Nathanael, when first told about Jesus, says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” So when you hear Matthew say, “He shall be called a Nazarene” – think of the worst insult, the worst slur you can think of – that’s the equivalent. This Jesus is going to be despised.
And in fact, it is through this mocking that the Messiah will bring about salvation. When we look at this flight into Egypt, it wasn’t that Jesus avoided, got out of pain and suffering. I called what Herod does here some of the most violent words in Scripture. If you want to hear the words that are worse, you simply need to look at the end of Matthew’s Gospel for the passion of our Lord. There, in His passion, our Lord, who is truly innocent, truly without sin, is mocked, beaten, abandoned, scorned, humiliated, and crucified. No, Christ is spared in His youth so that He might one day go to the Cross and in His own Body receive and experience everything the world can throw at us. He takes it all – takes what we deserve in our place. And why? With His death and resurrection, Christ Jesus wins us salvation, rescues us from our own sin, from death, and from this world, and promises us life everlasting.
Or, in other words, Jesus comes and by His death and resurrection wins us peace. Not peace as the world wants or understands, but true peace. You are forgiven on account of Christ. Even though the world might rant and rave all around you, your forgiveness, your salvation is secure. Whatever goes on, whatever happens this year, nothing can change the fact that Christ Jesus died for you, nothing can change the fact that He comes to this altar with His own Body and Blood and says to you, “My peace be with you always.” And that peace, that salvation that our Lord wins is our continual and eternal focus here – while the world might flit from one thing to another, running from one thing to another like a chicken with its head cut off, you have security, eternal security in Him. Our Lord fulfilled all of the Law and the prophets for You, won salvation for you, and gives you peace that the world will never understand – the peace of His forgiveness that leads to life everlasting, life and peace that are yours long after this world has passed away. This is what our Lord has come to do, and this is why I can say even today, my dear friends in Christ, a hearty and merry Christmas to you all. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.