Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009 Christmas II Matthew 2:13-23

And they, having departed, look, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph according to a dream, saying, "Arise, take along the Child and His mother and flee into Egypt and stand there until I speak to you; for Herod is about to seek for the Child to destroy it. And he arose and took along the Child and His mother at night and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod; in order that the utterance of the Lord through the prophet be fulfilled, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."... And Herod, having come to his end, look an angel of the Lord appeared according to a dream in Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise, take along the child and his mother and go into the land of Israel, for dead are those having sought the death of the child." And he arose, took along the child and His mother and went into the land of Israel. And having heard that Archeleus reigned in Judea in place of his father, Herod, he feared entering there; and being divinely warned according to a dream, he left into the region of the Galilee, and he came, resided in a city called Nazareth; that would be fulfilled the utterance through the prophet, that he will be called a Nazarene.

The Christmas story is viewed by most people as a rather light-hearted tale of the humble beginnings of Jesus–born in a manger, visited by lowly shepherds, then receiving gifts from eastern sages. Yet there was a very serious element to the birth of God in flesh. The first hint we get is how fearful the shepherds are when a warrior angel Gabriel, and his angel army manifest themselves. This was no choir with harps and halos. This was a battle regiment, waging war in defense of God incarnate!

For satan and his minions.meant serious business when it came to God manifesting Himself as promised seed of Eve. From the devil's viewpoint, it surely seemed like God had foolishly made himself vulnerable...killable. So that wily serpent of old pounced at the chance to kill God at His weakest. He tempted Herod with his own pride in order to get him to kill the infant Jesus. Herod did his worst, but it was too late. The devil failed, perhaps forgetting that he is God's devil after all.

Mary, Joseph and their young son flee for their very lives into Egypt. God running away from the devil...imagine that! But it was not that God was afraid of a battle with satan. It just wasn't time yet. Jesus would engage the devil face to face in the desert after forty days without food or water...and come out victorious by not giving in to a single temptation. And Jesus would seal that victory at the cross, where the Seed of Eve struck the death-blow upon the devil by His dying on the cross.

So, what do you think of God coming to earth as a young, vulnerable child? Do you think of it only as a sweet, cute story for children? Have you ever contemplated the seriousness of God coming into this evil world where the devil is prince, and where tyrants like Herod reek their havoc? Perhaps we should rethink our *nice* view of the Christmas season, and consider the gravity of God's humbling of Himself to be born of a virgin and to become the easy prey of a child who needs much protection.

The vulnerability of God, made manifest in human flesh is by design. That is why St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that God's power is made perfect in weakness. God's omnipotent power to save is hidden from view behind the human flesh of Jesus. But His almighty strength is there the whole time. It is ready to be unleashed at the very moment that is least expected. When Jesus goes to the cross, and dies for all mankind–at His apparent moment of weakness–there His power to save is unleashed!

For God made Himself killable, in order that by His death a great exchange could take place. Your sins washed from you in baptism, along with their wages of death, is given to Jesus at Calvary. His body given up to death on the tree, and His blood shed as the spear pierced Him through are traded to you for forgiveness, life and salvation in the Lord's Supper. By His death, He destroys death for you. Those who have died believing in Jesus, yet live! You who live and believe in Jesus will never die!

So what do we learn from this story of the flight into Egypt? Several things: first, that suffering and dying are not to be shunned as bad things, but embraced when they are God's will, for His Own Son or for the infant martyrs. second that God's will indeed does play out according to His timing, not man's (like Herod) and certainly not as the devil would have things done. Lastly, that God provides protection and a way of escape from things that are contrary to His plan for life and salvation.

From the get-go, Jesus' life on earth was serious business. From the humiliating circumstances of His birth, to those first few drops of blood he shed on the 8th day, to the flight from Herod as a young child. Rest assured, Jesus has not stopped His serious work for your salvation in word and sacrament.

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