The first Sunday after Christmas has what for me is a terrible text, The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Immediately after Christmas we get something that reminds us of the type of Kingdom, the type of King who has come. His Kingdom is not of this world while being firmly in it. This sermon is a reflection on that. (And I hope it is understandable. I had surgery on Friday afternoon, and so the pain killers were still working here. A nod to being in this kingdom while looking for that resurrection. The text is not quite as clean as I just don’t have my main hand, so I dictated and went rough.)
It’s the shortest season in the church year, 12 days, from Christmas day until Epiphany. But within that short season there are some interesting minor commemorations.
Dec 26th – The Feast Day of St. Stephen, protomartyr or the first martyr. Luke gives him two chapters, Acts 6:8 – 8:3 and maybe a little of the psychology that lead to St. Paul.
Dec 28th – Holy Innocents, Martyrs The picture above is Bruegel’s depiction of the event. I always appreciated how Bruegel could bring biblical events to Flemish towns. In the midst of the landscapes that we know all too well, something profound takes place. There has always been for me a profound lesson in that. Here, these stories are timeless, because they tell us something about ourselves and the Truth. And now they are yours. You are their keepers and teachers and livers. Are you Stephen who inspires Paul, or are you Herod? How will you keep them?
Jan 1st – Circumcision and Name of Jesus
That is a lot of blood. The Christ child came, was incarnated, in flesh and blood. And blood in this world gets spilled and spent. The question to you on this Childermas, is how do you spill yours? As Martyrs and witnesses or to make full the sin? For most of us that is a metaphorical question. We won’t be martyrs. But who are our saints that the Augsburg Confession says, “we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling.” How is your blood spent, or who is your blood?
This is an awful Christmas text. It is heart wrench and not at all in the saccharine mode of modern Christmas. In the words of Doctor Who – ‘its half-way through the dark.’
So far I’m finding Matthew tougher that either Luke or Mark to preach from. I think that is because of a couple of impressions of mine.
1) This could be take the wrong way, but I generally think that most Christians today, even those who claim a high view of Scripture, have a low view. When it comes down to it, we really question or hold suspect if the Bible is the Word of God. If we did think it was the very Word, we would struggle with it. We would argue over it. We would have bibles worn out. Fact is we don’t. The opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference. My impressions of Mark and Luke were that their stories stood on their own a little more. They were more about ‘Jesus is Lord’ which is a theme that can be made within the context of Jesus’ life. Matthew, as this sermon will talk about, has some different themes like ‘Jesus is the Son of David’ and ‘Jesus is the Nazarene/Suffering Servant’. Those are intensely biblical. If you don’t have a high view of scripture, and you don’t have a good knowledge of the basic salvation story, then Matthew’s “proofs” are meaningless.
2) Mark is supposed to be the gritty one, but Matthew in the infancy is the one that looks at the abyss. Matthew is the one that gives us our sin in all its horribleness – a tyrant killing babies. When one of your proofs that Jesus is the messiah is that he is the Nazarene/Suffering Servant, Matthew so far has some darker colors on his palate.
Here is the money portion or emotional payoff of the full sermon…
The closest I can come to seeing it, is Matthew’s last “proof”. In order that he would be called a nazarene. That Jesus would be despised among men and rejected. A man acquainted with grief.
Sometimes, in fact in this sin crippled world most of the time, what we can do and accomplish is nothing. Sometimes the tyrants are too strong – including that tyrant sin within us. Sometimes there is no Egypt to run to. Sometimes there are no angels instructing a righteous step-father Joseph. Sometimes all we can do is bear witness. Bear witness that God is not the God of the philosophers distant and far off. God is not the cleaned up and sparkly God of the marketers and Christmas cartoons. We bear witness that God is one of passion.
That the babe in the manger grew up to a cross. That the God revealed to us in his Word does not spare us from life, but came to give us life. Right now, that life includes sorrow, it includes passion. But it also includes a God, a savior, who has felt it and knows it all. A God, a savior who remembers. A God, a savior who will comfort Rachel in the only way possible. Her children that are no more – will be. Because that savior bust the gates of death.
Now we might be Nazarenes, despised and rejected. Now we might be standing a Rama – the place of leaving for exile. But now we have hope – a God, a savior who is Christ the Lord.