Text: Matthew 2:13-23
While the joy of Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus has passed, the celebration of Christmas continues. The wise men have since followed the star, arrived, and have seen the blessed child and the Holy Family. They have gazed upon Jesus and have returned to where they have come from. But the scene is not a joyous scene. Yesterday, the Church remembered the Holy Innocents. King Herod, in order to remove what he considered a threat to his rule, had his soldiers go into Bethlehem and kill every male child they found there, two years old and under. These are the Holy Innocents, killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. We would be mindful to remember the words from our Christmas Gospel from John 1: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
With startling abruptness St. Matthew turns our attention from the wise men who came to worship Jesus to the mad man in Jerusalem who sent soldiers to murder him. Herod had heard from the Magi of “he who has been born king of the Jews.” King Herod was disturbed because the Jews, of course, had a king. But not one who was born king. Herod had usurped the throne of David, and was not even a Jew. The Magi revealed that God had now brought about the birth of the rightful heir to David’s throne.
Clearly this did not sit well with Herod, thus the reasoning behind the killing of all the young male children. God was not going to send the Savior of the world into the world, only to die in short order. And so, an angel of the Lord was sent to Joseph: “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.”
Long before this, Herod had feared for his position, growing increasingly paranoid toward the end of his life. He put many people to death in order to secure his power, and he certainly wasn’t going to let a baby usurp the power which he himself had usurped.
Our Gospel today isn’t as much about Herod as it is about Jesus. God has sent forth Jesus, just as promised. He has come into creation, becoming one alongside creation, the creation which He had made. St. Matthew tells us that the flight to Egypt fulfills Hosea 11. This is a fulfillment not in the sense that Hosea was directly predicting Christ’s flight into Egypt, but in the sense that Israel’s sojourn in Egypt serves as a type of this event. Just as God preserved His Son in Egypt in the face of Herod’s plot, so also He had preserved Israel in Egypt and kept His covenant with Abraham in spite of Pharaoh’s opposition. God’s plans cannot be canceled by earthly kings. All is under the control of an all-gracious, all-powerful God. And not even Herod, as powerful as he thought he was, would be able to thwart the work and promise of God.
In the midst of the commercialization of Christmas, it’s easy for us to forget that the child Jesus came to establish peace between God and man, but He also said that His Word and Sacraments would create divisions among people and that many would stumble because of Him. In the very region where Old Testament Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin, other children of the promise lost their lives to wicked King Herod’s sword, and their mothers wept and could not be consoled. But we cannot blame God for the death of these “innocents”; it was the wicked king who caused the anguish and death. God was there, He saw what happened, and even in the midst of Herod’s wickedness He was working to bring about his plan of salvation for the world. God is not the author of evil—man is—but He is always working to turn what is meant for evil into good.
Once Herod heard the words “King of the Jews” from the Wise Men’s lips and realized that his reign might be threatened, he knew that this baby Jesus had to die. The irony is that Herod was right. Jesus did have to die, but not because Herod willed it. He had to die, but not on Herod’s schedule, not until the fullness of God’s time, just the right time. He had to die for Herod’s sins; He had to die because of our sins. He had to die because of our doubt and our fear and our unbelief and all of our daily sins. He had to die because God knew we could never turn back to Him, keep His commands, and love Him on our own. As St. Paul says, we “were dead in the trespasses and sins” and enemies of God by our very nature!
Since it was not yet His time, the baby Jesus was protected from Herod by God’s divine intervention. Following the angel’s word, Joseph led his family to safety in Egypt. God was accomplishing His plan of salvation in Jesus Christ in spite of King Herod’s wickedness, and in so doing He has paid the price for Herod’s sins, for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world.
He did not die in Bethlehem at the command of Herod. Instead, He died when He finished His mission here on this earth. He died after He had led a perfect life and after He had taken our sins to the cross. He died as God’s sacrifice for our sins. He died at the time God established and not at the time Herod established. He died only after Jesus Himself said, “It is finished.”
Jesus not only died according to God’s timetable, but He also rose according to it and ascended into heaven. His resurrection and ascension mean that all who have faith in Him, men, women, and even infants, will spend eternity in His presence. In spite of the pile of sin that you and I have produced, God is with us. It means that when we die, God is with us. It means that God is with us for all eternity.
From an earthly point of view, Herod the Great appeared more powerful than Jesus. Herod was the absolute monarch of Judea with the authority of the Roman Empire to back him up. Jesus was this child of poverty. He had few earthly resources. Never the less, Herod could not touch Him. God’s plan overrules all other plans. God has a definite timetable for His Son. No one can change that, not even Herod.
Know that death is not for you – life is. Remember what the angel said to the shepherds: unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Christ is born in Bethlehem to be your Savior, too. Even as a baby, He’s at work in our Gospel lesson to save you, and all of Herod’s wrath and soldiers can’t stop the infant Messiah. The sin of Herod is always nearby, but Christ the King is as near to you as His Word and Sacraments. He is born to deliver from sin, death and devil—deliver you with the Word that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.