Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Christmas 2 (January 3, 2009)
TITLE: “The Slaughter of the Innocents”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from Matthew chapter 2, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem under the murderous King Herod.
Life has consequences. If you take a certain path in your life, make certain decisions, do certain things, then something is going to happen as a result. If you drink to much, you get drunk. If you eat too much, you get fat. If you steal, you go to jail. We spend our lives trying to hope that this is not the case, but it always comes back to us. You can’t escape it any more than you can escape death.
We are on the tail end of the Christmas season now, and so it is important for us to remember the consequences of our Lord coming down to earth as a little baby. Today’s reading of the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt highlight this for us. Our Lord came down in the womb of the Virgin Mary, took on our flesh and blood. This is all fine and good, but now what? What happens next?
In theology, we often divide talking about our Lord into to parts. His person and His work. Think about the catechism explanation of the Second Article of the Creed for a minute: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed me, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death…
Christmas and Epiphany are the seasons where we remember first of all who Jesus is as the very Son of God and Son of Mary. Later after Epiphany we will learn more of His power and love for us His people, but in Christmas we remember this great truth, that He is both God and Man, the two together in a miraculous way.
So what does this have to do with the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt? It has this to do with it. These things had to happen. The children in Bethlehem had to die, first of all, because it was prophesied in Holy Scriptures that this would happen. But secondly and most importantly, because this all fits with who Jesus is and what He comes to do.
Jesus, simply put, comes to suffer in our place and die our death. Everything in His life and death and resurrection point to this one, great reality. Everything. So Joseph is warned in a dream that he is to take our Lord and his wife, Mary, to Egypt in order to protect and save them from murderous Herod.
What does this mean? This means that Jesus is already doing what He came to do. He is, even as a small child, suffering on our behalf. Beginning with His circumcision in the Temple, He blood is shed for you and for your salvation. Every part of the Christmas story points to how Jesus came to save you from your sins.
But there is another aspect of this picture. In the death of these small boys we have a picture of what it means to participate in Jesus’ suffering. From the perspective of the world, they had done nothing wrong. They were about two years old or less. They were innocent. Now it is true that they were sinners, certainly. But that isn’t really the point of the text here. The point is that these things happened to them, even death at a tender age, came about to point to Jesus and the life that He would shed for the sins of the world. They lived and died as little Christs.
St. Peter reminds us that we shouldn’t be shaken up when we are tried for the faith. He writes,
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14 ESV)
It is the greatest joy for the Christian to share in Christ’s sufferings, as these little ones did. That is where God’s glory is revealed. Christ’s being and His doing melt together here. Christ is the Son of God, and as God’s Son He comes to save you. When you suffer as a Christian, God’s work of bringing about the salvation of the world is all the clearer. For you see, just as Jesus and His family fled to Egypt to hide from the hatred of Herod, they came back. Herod died. Your harrowed suffering will come to an end. You will come home. I don’t mean the home out of the cold from today. I mean you will come home to heaven. And this is the picture of it here, now. Christ’s blood, shed first in the Temple, and finally on the cross, is now here, for you. We sing and rejoice in the presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, including those little martyrs in Bethlehem. Rejoice, beloved!