The Second Sunday after Christmas
January 2, 2021 A+D (Recycled January 4, 2004)
St. Matthew 2:13-23
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The sons of Jacob stood in Pharaoh’s court. The tyrant demanded Rachel’s son Benjamin. It was a sacrifice with hope. To be sure, the tyrant promised that he would not harm Benjamin, that he would only remove him from his father for while, and, in exchange for this imprisonment of Benjamin he would provide grain for all of them.
They were rightly afraid that the Egyptian ruler would not keep his word. Egypt had became powerful through military aggression. Its leaders were duplicitous, conniving, and greedy; pagans devoted to violent and cruel gods. The man in Egypt was even then holding Simeon. Joseph was long gone. The family had suffered all it could stand. Could Jacob, with his own history of betrayal and deception, bear it? He had no choice. He was desperate. There was no other place to turn. He, his remaining children and grandchildren, were starving.
So Benjamin went down to the land of slavery. The widower deceiver who wrestled with God mourned for three lost sons and one departed wife. But there was a surprise and, of course, you already know it. What men meant for evil, God meant for good. The man in Egypt was non othe than long-lost and betrayed Joseph back from the dead, sold into slavery at the hands of those he loved so that they would be spared starvation and death. He resisted all temptation. He came out of slavery and prison. And he forgave his brothers, recieve them with joy. Who could have seen this turn of events? No one but God alone. Joseph who should have hated his brothers, loved them and reunited his family in a land of plenty. Once he seemed like a tyrant, but time revealed him as a Divine benefactor, full of mercy and kindness.
1900 years later mad Herod drove the promised One out of the promised land and Rachel’s daughters mourned again. Brave and foolish is the pastor who’d stand at the graveside with an under-sized coffin and tell the mothers that was God’s will or that Herod was God’s servant. God’s will was not that those boys die. It was that His Son die instead. That is the Cup that cannot be removed. Death must come. The Law must be fulfilled. Justice must be served.
But not by those boys, those boys are like Joseph and his brothers, they need redeeming and rescue. They aren’t the sacrifice. They are the benefactors. Rather the One who flees in the night at the warning of a dream must return when the time is full not to face Herod’s wrath but His own Father’s wrath. From this, Jesus did not shrink or flee but went to His own martyrdom without making a complaint.
So it is He did not abandon those boys. Even this, fleeing and weakness, was part of His suffering for them. First there was no room in the inn, then there was no room in His country and homeland. He had to live as a refugee. He had to come out of Egypt. He had to cross the Jordan’s storied waters into the land that would put Him to death. He had to humble Himself in weakness and wait like a mortal man for the time appointed by His Father. He could not take matters in His own hands or call down wrath upon His enemies. He had to defeat them by submission and by death. Before glory comes the cross.
But even His own tragedy, Jesus cares for His children. From the cross He provides for His mother. Likewise, He rewards those young Bethlehem martyrs early. He removes them from this suffering plane. They’ll never know heartache or loneliness. They’ll never fail or be ashamed. They’ll never bury a child. Don’t weep for them. Weep for those who survived, who must carry on in the face of sadness and in the uncertainty of this life. I don’t mean weep for the mothers of Bethlehem. They, too, have now come to their reward. They know see how God worked it all our for good. They learned to not hold too tightly to the best things in this world but to wait for true joys in heaven. Their sorrow is done. They have now had more years of perfect bliss with their sons then they’d ever have had on earth. Those mothers are full of joy and do not need your sympathy or tears. Don’t weep for them. Weep for yourselves and learn what they learned.
Be comforted. Jesus lives. This world is fleeting. Do not pray first that your children avoid pain or death or sadness. Pray first and always that they do not depart from their Baptisms. The Son has come up out of Egypt. Whatever you must suffer here, whatever satanic horrors you and they must endure, there will be a reunion in heaven.
At times, Christ, Our Lord, seems like a tyrant to our fallen reason. Time does not heal all wounds, but instead constantly creates new ones. The longer you live, the more dead people you love, the more tragedies you’ve known, the more regrets you have. And yet time will also kneel to God’s providence and mercy. It will eventually reveal that all things work together for good for those who love God. His sacrifice was one of hope. Though we put Him to death, He rose on the 3rd day, coming up out of Hades for us. He has reconciled us to the Father, honored us with His Name, and promised to see us through.
He will not abandon you. He has not forgotten you. You may have to spend a few nights in prison after being falsely accused or even worse after being rightly accused by Potiphar’s wife. You may have to suffer the humiliation of being forgiven by those you betrayed, of having to admit you were wrong, or you may be honored with the opportunity to be betrayed and then to forgive, like Joseph and Steven and Jesus. You may have to bury those you love. You may even outlive children. You may know of famines that have nothing to do with food.
But God is good. He will provide. He knows what He is doing. He is not a tyrant. Nothing is arbitrary. He is a master craftsman and every stroke is precise and necessary. He does what He must to get you where you need to be. He did not fail the boys of Bethlehem. He did not fail Mary on the cross. He did not abandon the apostles at the Ascension. He does what He always does for His children and not of Himself.
So it is that He is with us and He is coming back. He did not die in vain. Nor is He dead. He lives. Herod and Archelaus are both dead. The serpent’s head is crushed. There is nothing left to fear in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, or Rome. There is nothing to fear in Washington or Beijing or St. Louis. The grave has lost its sting. Your freedom abides not in the goodwill of men or the promise of governments or even acceptance in your own family. Your freedom is in Christ. He has purchased and won you. He won’t let you go. And He won’t ask you to endure these hardships forever. You, too, will be called up out of this Egypt and to your true and everlasting home, reunited in a land of plenty.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.