Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas - Matthew 2:13-23
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
Herod the Great was not all that great. I know I am not out on a limb there, but Chad Bird reminded me of that this week when he outlined this passage sharing how Herod was a great builder. He rebuilt the glory of the Temple in Jerusalem. He built up fortresses at Masada and founded Caesarea Maritima on the coast of the Mediterranean. He wanted his name to be great and have the grandeur of every king gone before him, and even more, but this will always pale in comparison to his sins of course. He was not a nice guy, and he was afraid of losing his standing as king because his appointment was at the behest of Caesar himself, never mind that he wasn’t even Jewish, but he considered himself king of the Jews. He had 3 sons killed, executed 1 wife along with her mother and grandfather, and when he died, he left orders for there to be a purge of the Jewish elders so that the mourning would be great at his death. Basically…a psychopath. So, it is no wonder that when a new king is announced, one who is given the title at birth of “King of the Jews”, Herod does what he can to erase that name from history.
Herod seeks to destroy the child, it says. Why?? Why kill a baby?? Well, every king…most kings anyways…rarely desire not to continue to be king. You get power, you want to keep it, and even gain more power and influence. The announcement of a new king, to a current king, even a future baby king, is an attack on the status quo. You don’t have to be a king, or a celebrity, or a politician to feel this. Imagine if you found out tomorrow that life as you have become accustomed to were to end. Shouldn’t be too hard given the last two years. If change were to come and it was not going to be temporary. Don’t lie. You’re mostly all Lutherans, and change is a four-letter word to us. Change is why the management of this pandemic, not just for Lutherans but for everyone, has people fighting on airplanes, punching gas station attendants, screaming at school board meetings, and the country is experiencing what they are terming “The Great Resignation.” People leaving jobs in hopes of greener grass, better life, avoiding or escaping the reality we are all in. Only problem is that pandemic life is everywhere. They go from one place to another and find out it is exactly the same as they left.
In Herod, what we should see is ourselves taken to the logical sinful conclusion. Attempts to be the captains of our fate. Here Herod seeks the destruction of a rival, but subconsciously it is that constant human attempt to destroy God. We tried when we ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil because we wanted to be gods ourselves and lose this One who is Almighty. For Herod…as well as for us to some extent, the sinner forgets. As sinners we are forgetters. We forget that we are told for instance that God raises up kings and tears them down. That is what is written in Daniel 2:21-22. Daniel speaks to Nebuchadnezzar and tells him of One greater than he, and that the king only serves because God has seen fit to keep him there. But that could change. So too, with Herod and us. If God raises up and tears down kings, what fears might we have if our lives were to change? What if One were to come preaching “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”? The One who is spoken of as the Name above all names to which every knee will bow. The One, Jesus, to which we, in all our cries for freedom and liberty, find that we all are beggars who fall down at the feet of Christ knowing He is the King of glory and we are not.
It is for these attitudes, for this sin, that we find God working through tragedy and threats to preserve His promised redemption for the change-haters. The wisemen leave, escaping Herod, and the Lord sends a dream to Joseph again in order to rescue the Child. Go to Egypt. Amid what looks like death and suffering, Christ seems to runaway, but in this we find God fulfilling His promise. God sends Jacob to Egypt in Genesis 46 because He already sent Jacob’s son, Joseph, there to preserve the people of the Promise from famine. Israel leaves behind the promised land and goes to a foreign land for a time. Here we have Christ walking in those shoes to preserve the Promise. Escaping a premature death so that He might die the right death, at the right time, for you. Just as Israel went to Egypt, suffered under Pharaoh, sought redemption for 400 years, and thought God had forgotten them, so too, Christ goes to Egypt to be the fulfillment of the life of Israel, to be Israel for you, so that the Promise of God will continue. And so we get one fulfillment of prophecy, Out of Egypt I called my Son, it says. The embodiment of the Exodus is Jesus. Jesus being the Hebrews coming out after the plagues. Jesus being the Red Sea that parts so they might walk on dry land. Jesus being the provision for them as they wander in the wilderness. In fact, He is your Exodus. Your escape. Your path out of all your fears and failures. Your redemption from the prison of your finitude. Your mortality. Your change-hating. Your Savior from your sins, from your death, from your enemies.
Leave it to Herod, though, to do what only Herod could do. Doing the math, he sends his soldiers to the region of Bethlehem to kill every boy two years and younger. That is what a sinner would do when the One comes to defeat sin and put the sinner to death. We, in our sinfulness, don’t want to die, but Christ comes as the One who puts sinners to death to revive them in Him. Herod tries and fails to kill Jesus, to kill God Himself, but not before he shows the extreme sinfulness of sin. Innocents murdered to quell the fears of a madman. This story should hopefully help you, as first World Americans to know that sin is not “missing the mark”, or a mistake, or some sort of negligence. It is an enemy, a disease, cancer, THE destroyer of hope. It is something that has to be destroyed. And so, Christ. Jesus Himself soaking up all your iniquities, and putting them to death on the cross for you. Leaving them buried in the depths of death so as to hand you a new future in God, as a sinner who has been bought at a price.
Matthew gives us another fulfillment here from Jeremiah 31 - Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. The original prophecy was written as speaking of the time of the Exile, where the Israelites were conquered and left to be deported out of the promised land. Where the hope of the Messiah and redemption seemed lost. Matthew uses it to eulogize the dead kids. But exile works for both.
In some ways, this passage should remind us, that just as the Israelites are a people of sojourn and waiting. People wandering until the fulfillment of the Promised future of God, so are we. What we have in Matthew 2 is everything God does to preserve His promises even while His own creation does it’s worst to try and thwart His saving work. But in Jesus nothing, no genocide or infanticide or global pandemic, will keep God from doing His work in you.
If we continue on in Jeremiah 31 to the next 2 verses we read: Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.
A hope for your future. Even in your tearful worries. Hope for the future which has been opened in Jesus. All can seem lost and the worst of the worst sins of the world fall upon you, and yet the hope of Jesus Christ is that you shall be never lost. Everything else? Yes. You? No. Because even in the death of the innocent babies in Bethlehem, God is still the Resurrector. Sinners may kill, and they will, but God gets the last laugh on that day when He breaks the chains of sin and death and thumbs His nose in their direction to make change for the good.
This especially comes to us in our last verse where we are told of one more prophecy fulfilled – “He will be called a Nazarene.” Commentators are divided here because this reference is not found in the Old Testament per se. But, the word for Nazarene in Hebrew, Nazara, sounds a lot like the Hebrew word netzer. Netzer is the word for shoot or branch. Where have we heard that before? Isaiah 11 – A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,…His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;…Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
A newness comes in that shoot, in that netzer, in THE Nazarene. A new future of righteousness, the fear of the Lord, peace, and life. Where all that we know is turned on its head – Wolves lie down with lambs, lions and calves have a picnic together eating straw, kids play with snakes, and then these words: They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
A new future in Jesus. New life in that shoot. In that branch out of the old dead stump of your sin and death. Yes, change is hard. But the One who came for you in the manger, the One who goes down to Egypt and comes out again, the One who dies and rises, the One (Your Jesus) shall come again. And He will take every sin and fear of change and squash it. All will be left is you and me and Him. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The One who changes all things for good. Thanks be to God. Amen.