December 26, 2019 No Peace, but a Sword- the Holy Innocents – Matthew 10:34, Matthew 2:1-18

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“Do not think that I (Jesus) have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 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.” – Matthew 2:1-18 (ESV)

As much as we are enraptured by the Christmas story, the very next chapter is tragic. Herod sends the wise men (or more accurately “magi” or astronomers) to find this king of the Jews, not because Herod had any plans of worshiping the infant Jesus, but because Herod wanted to take out the threat.

What Herod didn’t realize is that God has ways around the sinister designs of man.

What the people of Israel didn’t realize was that Messiah wasn’t coming as a bread king or as a military conqueror. He was coming to heal the sick and raise the dead, but also to turn over the moneylenders’ and temple vendors’ tables. He was coming to tear the temple curtain in two, to judge the living and the dead, and to defeat sin, death, Satan and the hordes of hell.

The fallout from the Incarnation of the Holy One of God- destruction by the sword -would begin with the male children of Bethlehem, and it continues to this day.

The Child in the manger would be the cause of the deaths of countless other children- slaughtered simply because of Herod’s desire to keep himself in power.

The Child in the manger- Christ, the Lord, calls us to die as well. Life in Christ is death to everything the world holds dear. We willingly forfeit power, influence, and comfort and in certain circumstances, our own lives, to follow Him. In some places in the world today to proclaim Christ is literally asking to lose one’s head. Martyrdom is still happening in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we really understand the purpose behind what appears to be the senseless destruction and waste and death and sorrow in this world?

Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.

The church has historically called the little boys killed by Herod’s mobs, “the Holy Innocents,” yet there are no humans on this earth untouched by the corruption of original sin. Those little boys were innocent of temporal crimes, but were still under the curse of the Fall. The truly Innocent One was also put to death, thirty years or so later, but His death was the end of death.

Jesus brought- and still brings- a sword. The sword that split the temple curtain so that we could be in the presence of God is the same sword that divides families and nations.

Today’s rude awakening right on the heels of the amazing blessing and wonder of Christmas seems a bit harsh, but in the middle of the valley of the shadow, He is with us.

Emmanuel, God with us does not abandon us, even in those times and places when our pain and mourning is beyond words.

Emmanuel, God Who took on human flesh, knows the agony of sorrow and of physical torment.

Emmanuel, God does bring a peace beyond all understanding- peace that can override the chaos, peace that knows that God is in control even when we cannot see how.

Jesus isn’t done yet. He is returning- returning for those who believe and trust in Him. He is coming back to remake the heavens and the earth. He will wipe away every tear and sorrow will be no more.

January 22, 2019 – Grafted In, by Faith, the Gift of God- Romans 10:13-24

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Now I (the apostle Paul) am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?  If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Romans 10:13-24 (NIV)

God gave the apostle Paul a rather difficult mission field. Jesus sent him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Gentiles=everyone who isn’t a Jew.)  Paul was formerly the Pharisee, Saul- a persecutor and murderer of Christians, a person who tried to save himself by obeying the Law. After he was converted to Christian faith by Jesus on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-19) Paul wanted his hearers to understand that one’s heritage and genetic lineage are not the things that reconcile a person to God.  God grafts us into His family, into the covenant of faith, the covenant of Abraham.

The Jewish people for the most part, rejected Paul and the message Jesus had given him. Paul had made it clear to the Gentiles that had come to faith, that they were accepted by God on the basis of their faith. Paul also made it clear that God did not necessarily exclude those from whom the faith had first been given.

It is an interesting paradox of theology that while Jesus died to save every person from their sins regardless of their ancestry, not everyone will accept the gift that He has given.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Lutherans accept the paradox. We believe Jesus indeed died to redeem everyone- to take away the sins of the world.

He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 (NIV)

We also believe that there are some that for whatever reason, will not accept the free gift of salvation. God alone knows who and why.  As Christians we are instructed to tell others about Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit works through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17.)  God alone judges the living- those who have faith- and the dead, who have not come to saving faith in Jesus.

We don’t inherit faith like we inherit our genes. Just because a person’s parents or grandparents are of a particular ethnicity or were members of such and such church does not automatically make faith a child’s birthright. Being born into a non-Christian family does not exclude a person from coming to saving faith in Christ, as many people who have no familial tradition of belief do come to faith when the Word is spoken and taught.  God’s means of grace are exactly that- God’s. We are called to see people as God does, without regard to their ancestry or history.  We are adopted into His family by grace, by faith in Jesus, just like everyone else who believes in Him. The Good News is for everyone.

In baptism we become children of God, but it takes us a lifetime for God to transform us into the people He created us to become. Children learn the dogma (statements of belief) of the faith from parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers.  We can lead horses to water as it were by bringing our children to the font, by providing the information (catechesis) and by our examples, but the Holy Spirit opens the heart to hear what is taught and He creates faith.

Paul was telling the Gentiles that no one is more or less special in God’s eyes by means of their ancestry or background. It may seem more natural for those of Jewish descent to believe, and this is Paul’s hope, but he doesn’t want the Gentiles to feel as if they have a special privilege because they were adopted into God’s family and non-believing Jewish people were left out. Faith is what justifies us, regardless of our heritage, and faith is a gift from God. God is the one doing the acting.

In our baptism we are reminded that it is in Christ alone that we remain in faith, that we are forgiven, and that we are made children of God.

Thank God for His gift of faith. May He give us the grace and the passion to live in response to it.