Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas, AD 2021

Matthew 2:13-23

While you should not consider this a law from God, it is usually best to baptize a child as soon as he is able to come to church. His need is great – despite innocent appearance every child born is corrupted by original sin and under the dominion of death and the devil unless Christ frees him. The good news is that Christ has died for us and taken away all our sin. In baptism, all the benefits of Christ are given to him - It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare (SC IV). Here in baptism, we are delivered from the reign of death and the devil through the work of Jesus applied to us by water and the Word. Our old man of sin dies and a new man rises in us, the beginning of our resurrection unto eternal life. Just as we would give medicine to a sick child when needed, we should be willing to bring baptism, and therefore Christ, to them as soon as we can.
           
Therefore, this child, Caius, is being baptized on a Sunday when the gospel reading is about child murder and a young family fleeing the country. This is Matthew’s Christmas story, much less homey or sentimental than that of Luke, with divorce, strangers from the east, murder, and exile. If Luke’s gospel gives us an image of Christ’s birth that matches our ideals of Christmas, then Matthew’s gospel gives us an image of how Christmas is as we experience it in this world. It is a Christmas under tyrants, where strangers find the Christ. It is a Christmas that accounts for the reality of this world, where the devil is still working to thwart God’s plans and through sinful man causes all kinds of evil and sorrow.
           
Herod was such a man. Using his great wealth and violence he conquered the Jews and became their king, though he knew he was not legitimate and was always in constant worry that someone from the line of David would dethrone him. Herod even went to the point of killing many of his own relatives in order to keep his throne. So when the wise men come to Herod bringing news of the king of the Jews to be born, he is greatly troubled. If only he had listened to the words of the hymn:

The star proclaims the King is here;
But, Herod, why this senseless fear?
For He who offers heav’nly birth
Seeks not the kingdoms of this earth. (LSB 399.1)
           
There is no reason for Herod to fear this child of Bethlehem because this child has not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but one in which the entire world will be saved. The news of the birth of Jesus should be delightful for Herod. Even despite Herod’s many and great sins, the Son of God has come into the flesh to save him from those sins. The Father’s compassion for us is so great that He sent His Son to die even for the greatest sinners, including Herod, so do not think you are beyond God’s forgiveness. Jesus died for you, and his promises in baptism are for you. When fear and doubt assail you, and the devil accuses you, say, “Yes, I am a sinner, and I am baptized! I am forgiven!” For you do not rest your assurance on yourself or your feelings, but the work of Christ, completed for you at His death and resurrection and given to you in baptism.
           
Therefore, even as we struggle through this life with sin and with suffering, we should continually repent and confess our sins to God, drowning the old man and letting the new man rise, as baptism indicates. For this the work of the godly person. The ungodly does not do so but follows the way of Herod. Herod heard a great work of God, and instead of repenting, he shook and trembled, and doubled down on his sacrilege and tyranny, only becoming worse than before. Like Pharoah before him at the time of Moses, Herod’s heart just became harder as the works of God were shown to him, and he fully earned the punishment he received for the works he did, the worst of which being the murder of the holy innocents of Bethlehem.
           
There we see Herod participating one of the works the devil loves best – killing saints. It is the devil’s will that Christians suffer, but most of all that they fall from the faith. Those boys in Bethlehem who died for the sake of Christ are now safe His arms, united with their believing mothers in the presence of God. Still on earth, we know that the devil is always looking to target Christians, to hurt them and make them fall. Our defense against this is not in our own strength. Christians must always be hearing God’s word and receiving Christ’s body and blood for strength to persevere through the evil day. Children also, who have been given this new birth in baptism, need to be taught and read the Word of God by their parents or guardians, so they may not fall away. While baptism does great things through the Word, water, and command of God, we cannot leave our children reborn and exposed to the attacks of the devil without prayer and Christian teaching. It is good also to choose godly sponsors who will pray for our children and encourage them in the faith. We must never think we or our children do not need God’s Word, to repent and hear the good news of Christ’s forgiveness.
           
As we see with Herod, security in sin leads to insecurity and more and more wickedness, but this does not baffle God. For while the devil attacks, we are still under God’s care, and no evil can thwart God’s plan. As we live in the reality of the Gospel of Matthew Christmas, we learn to be like innocent children, trusting in God in spite of circumstance. Such was the case with Joseph, who does not speak back to the angel, saying, “I don’t understand, didn’t say my adopted son would save His people? Why must we leave for Egypt? The facts are contrary to your promise!” Rather, as a child trusts implicitly in his mother’s provision, Joseph trusted God and brought the Child and his mother to Egypt. Out of Herod’s attack, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” What the devil and sinful man meant for evil, God made good. Jesus, God’s true son, fulfills what God’s adopted child, Israel, failed to do. As Jesus goes out of Egypt and returns to Nazareth as a toddler, he already is going down the path God has set for him to die on the cross and rise from the dead to accomplish our salvation.
           
Therefore no power in heaven or on earth can keep us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing can make God’s promises in baptism untrue. Our suffering and sin can make us doubt, but we must become then more like children and trust that “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). It is no wonder children are baptized because, given faith by the Holy Spirit, they do not have the adult worries which tend to hinder this pure trust. Only through the Holy Spirit, by receiving God’s gifts, can we like Joseph do what the Lord commands. This is the resurrection life. The boys in Bethlehem live the resurrection life, the life begun in baptism, which Caius began today, and which you began at your baptism. No devil or tyrant can over come this resurrection life, for it is bound up in Jesus’ resurrection and thus eternal. Amen.

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