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.

December 28, 2017 – The Holy Innocents, Rachel Still Weeps- Matthew 2:16-18, John 1:5

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When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: (see Jeremiah 31:15)

 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:16-18 (NRSV)

 

Recently we talked about how Jesus came to earth not to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Those who are in power wish to remain in power. Powerful people will go to great lengths to maintain and grow their influence.  Herod saw Jesus as an earthly threat to his throne.  Herod dealt with the challenge to his power by attempting to eliminate it.  Jesus was spared Herod’s knife only because His parents were warned to take him to Egypt for a time to avoid Herod’s assassins.

Sadly, while Jesus was spared, scores of innocent children were massacred in the name of one man’s insecurity. Unfortunately the slaughter of innocents continues today. Children die untimely deaths every day- some from illness or accident, some from neglect and abuse. Some are simply sacrificed because they offend their parents’ sense of economy or timing, or they carry a genetic flaw. This world is not a safe place for children.

The correlation between slaughter and power is as old as time. The old kingdoms and the old paradigms don’t go away without a fight, even when the change of regime is good and ultimately necessary.  The problem with the fight over power is that the sacrifice and the suffering are most often borne by the most fragile and vulnerable.

It is a sad reality that children still die in the name of convenience, from lack of material resources, as collateral damage in war, and at the brutal hands of abusers.

There are some who would say if God is a gracious and good God, why does He permit this to continue on? Why did He allow it then, and why does it still go on now?

There is no easy or acceptable answer to the question of human evil. Jesus came into this world of suffering and evil as a vulnerable child and entered into the human experience with us, but evil is still with us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5 (NRSV)

Perhaps our calling as Jesus followers is to let His light shine in and through us- even when we are surrounded by darkness, death and evil that we can’t understand or conquer alone.

Jesus came into our world precisely because we so desperately need the light that darkness cannot overcome. Evil and suffering exist but that is not the end of the story.  There will come a day when no mother will weep for her children.

 

 

December 22, 2016- Wise Men and Kings, Matthew 2:1-2, Matthew 2:13-18

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In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NRSV)

Herod wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  Especially when anyone threatened his sovereignty.  Herod saw himself as being In Charge, and anyone who may have been seen as a challenge to that control was seen as a threat to be neutralized. Later, when Herod learned that Jesus was indeed the long foretold King of the Jews, born in Bethlehem, he ordered what was to be known as the Slaughter of the Innocents-

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18 (NRSV)

Historically not much is known about the wise men from the east.  Legend has it that there were three, however, the Bible does not give a number.  There may have been two, or twenty.  The important part of the story is that they followed the star that was put forth as a sign, and they searched after Jesus without even really being aware of what His coming meant for the world and for humanity. They also took heed to the warning given to them in a dream not to return to Herod, allowing time for Jesus’ family to take Him to safety in Egypt during this time. (Matthew 7:13-15)

It is said that “wise men still seek Him.”  But do we really seek God with diligence in everything we do, and in everyone we encounter?

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8 (NRSV)

Wisdom isn’t necessarily found as much in the answers as in asking the right questions.  When we search and knock and ask God we might not get the answers we think we are going to get.  The wise men sought after an earthly king- but they discovered what appeared to be a poor family with a infant that was born in an animal barn.

Did they know that they found the King of Kings?  Are we seeking Him also?

Are we asking the right questions?  Are we listening to the answers, and the warnings that God gives us?