In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Merry Christmas! Our text for reflection this morning is our gospel lesson Matthew chapter two. With all the beauty and merry making of Christmas the church decided centuries ago to dive headlong into the sharper edges of the Christmas story. Of course that was easy for our ancestors to decide because that’s exactly how the true story of Christmas goes. The Evil One, God’s foe, wanted to thwart the Almighty’s plans. So, he tried to remove Jesus from the picture immediately.
Herod was a willing instrument for the Devil. He was a suspicious and ruthless dictator. He’d killed his own sons to protect his throne. He even had a wife executed later in his life. What are a few two year olds in a tiny town south of Jerusalem to him? It was said that it was safer to be one of Herod’s dogs than one of his sons. His paranoia and his hunger for power enslaved him.
Now, God’s Son had arrived, the one born to be true king of the Jews. Herod heard the Word of God along with the Magi. He was invited by the Word of Christ to come to Bethlehem and see Christ whose birth the angels sing. Herod could go and bow at the manger like the shepherds and outsiders from the East. He could have the true peace of God, but he would not.
We like to think of Herod as the Gospel villain. We see the depth of his sin and treachery and think it outside the realm of possibility for most men; but Herod is Everyman. Herod teaches that the response of raw human nature to the kingship of Jesus is rebellion. If Jesus is Lord, then we are not. Our first sin was an attempt to become like God and we’ve been trying ever since. So, when God shows up our counterfeit Lordship of our lives is exposed for what it is, a delusion. Herod was delusional. All sinners are one way another. We try to play God. Though Herod is an extreme case, he is not an isolated one. Herod is what every man is deep down inside. Every sinful act you commit is the little Herod in your heart tempting you anew to doubt, hate, and resist the real king to unseat Him for the throne of your heart. As Martin Luther warned in the Large Catechism, “For our flesh in itself is corrupt, and inclined, to evil, even after we accept and believe God’s Word.”
So notice how we prayed against this little Herod today in the Collect. “Almighty God, you have poured into our hearts the true Light of Your Incarnate Word. Grant that this light may shine forth in our lives…” Faith desires Jesus to be on the throne of its heart and prays for His light always.
God can deal with the likes of Herod. God thwarted the Devil by protecting His Son by giving Him Joseph who fled with the baby and His mother to Egypt. Herod in all his authority and might couldn’t overcome one little baby. He comes out the fool and dies. So, goes the rest of the gospel. A poor carpenter turned rabbi will preach and teach in a small part of the world. The powers therein will try to kill Him and they will think they have succeeded when He’s crucified. Yet, then comes the third day when it’s proven that God’s power is glorified in weakness, even the weakness of a cross, and what the Christ accomplishes yields fruit to eternal life. The Kingdom of God starts as the smallest of seeds and then spreads (and is still spreading) to the four corners of the world.
The Herods of the world will all die one way or another, even us. God deals with them in two ways. For the unrepentant like the first Herod God will thwart their plans and accomplish His purposes in spite of them. The other way is even better. He still kills them, but raises them again with Jesus. That’s exactly what He has done for you.
Have you ever heard the joke about little Billy while he was standing in the Narthex? Over the entryway to the church was a plaque with a list of names on it. The pastor was there so little Billy asked him why those people had their names on that plaque. The pastor said, “Well Billy those are the names of people who died while in the service.” Billy paused for a moment and then looked up at his pastor and said, “Pastor, which service did they die in? The 8:30 or the 10:30?”
There’s a point that this joke probably wasn’t trying to get at. There should be deaths in every Divine Service, in fact everyone of us should come here to die, die to self, die to sin, to have our little Herod crushed by God. God drowned that little Herod in Baptism, like He drowned evil Pharaoh in the Red Sea, but He doesn’t stop there. He has raised you in the forgiveness of your sins to everlasting life by Baptism. He pours into your heart the true light of the Incarnate Word that His light might shine forth in your life. He nourishes you with the food that grants eternal life in His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
And once again our preconceived ideas about God are destroyed. We expect a God who defeats His enemies with a top down approach. He comes from above and wipes them out. Instead He saves from the bottom up. We expect a king who wins like other kings without any trouble from the likes of Herod. We instead get a God who defeats the powers and principalities of the world by falling into their clutches and being crucified. Your sin must be dealt with from the bottom up. If God came with the top down approach you and I would be utterly destroyed for we only deserve death. Instead God in His wisdom came down in the depths of human need by becoming needy and deals with sin by becoming sin for us and dying the death we deserve.
Like I said earlier this lesson doesn’t avoid the sharper edges of the Christmas Story. We see the holy family suffering the precarious nature of this broken world. Herod’s rage was a portent of what was to come at the cross. The Christ child in weakness was always threatened, but God the Father was always with Him. A difficult thing for us was that God did not stop the hand of Herod from harming the little ones of Bethlehem. The early church has always called them the first New Testament martyrs. They gave their life, so that Jesus could live. What an irony, because it would not be long when the Christ would give His life so they can live eternally. God can give a hundredfold in His Kingdom what has been lost on earth. The eyes of Rachel will dry and one day her tears will be no more. This is precisely what will happen when the King comes again, but not in weakness, but in power opening up the gates of His kingdom to you where we will live in the light of the Incarnate Word forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.