+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Theme: Flight of the Newborn
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The shepherds depart. The angels ascend. The holy family retreats. The announcement of peace soon turns to a threat of danger. The celebration of Christ’s birth into the world does not long remain open for public participation. The Prince of Peace soon meets with hostility. It wasn’t long after Jesus’ birth that a price was put on His head. Wanted: Dead or alive- but preferably dead! King Herod, hopeful of help from the Magi, sought to terminate His young life. Why would Herod fear this child born not to royalty but to common Jewish people? What chance would this son of a carpenter have of coming to reign? Still, the prophecy had reached his ears and he was in no mood to take any chances.
Already the words of Simeon were coming to fulfillment, “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.1 The person and work of Jesus still causes great hostility because He is a threat to the power structures of the world and the way in which they operate. Yet His kingdom is not of this world. He comes to rule hearts, not command armies.
So, early in His life the Lord of Creation becomes a fugitive in a foreign land. Joseph is told by an angel to take the family and flee to Egypt. The hope of Israel, the deliverer of God’s people had to take refuge in the very place the Israelites had once been held in slavery for over 400 years. Reflecting on their exodus St. Paul reminds us, “Our forefathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”2 Now that same Christ returns as a child clothed in human flesh.
Jesus was fugitive from earthly rulers so that we might be freed from satanic powers. The Scripture says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”3 Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be placed under the law so that He might fulfill it perfectly; and do so on our behalf. He was perfectly obedient to the Father and we are credited with His holiness. In addition, all the prophecies of old have come to fulfillment in Him. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”4
Apart from Christ we are always fugitives from the law. There is no place to run to, no place to hide. All transgressions are transparent to God. We find refuge only in Christ. Dear friends, you can never be comfortable about meeting the requirements of the law. You can never be confident you have satisfied it. But you can be at peace. The law always condemns you; always finds you guilty. But the one who made entrance into the world through a dark little nook in Bethlehem has fulfilled it. He has not made the law obsolete. He has fulfilled it.
God knows when we try to play Him as the fool. We should never confuse forgiveness with apathy. Absolution is never a license to sin. Exoneration of guilt is never to be taken as evidence that fault was misplaced. Forgiveness, rightly received, never inflates the ego (as if somehow we deserved to be forgiven), but always cultivates humility. In other words, as a forgiven child of God I cannot debate or negotiate the necessity of divine pardon. The moment I do the sincerity of my repentance is called into question. We cannot feign ignorance or weakness; we are all alike condemned. A person of ego never fulfills the law of God or the law of love. The person of faith always does.
The person of faith always does because faith is a Spirit-given gift that anchors us to Christ who has offered perfect obedience on our behalf. Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice is more than just a supernatural but immaterial truth. The Bible says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”5
Freed from the ultimate fear we can forego our self-interests to serve others. Consider how Luther teaches vocation using the circumstances of the Bethlehem shepherds. “Who would have thought that men whose job was tending unreasonable animals would be so praised that not a pope or bishop is worthy to hand them a cup of water? It is the very devil that no one wants to follow the shepherds. The married man wants to be without a wife or the nobleman a prince. It is: ‘If I were this! If I were that! You fool! The best job is the one you have. If you are married, you cannot have higher status. If you are a servant, you are in the very best position. Be diligent and know that there are no greater saints on earth than servants. Do not say, ‘If I were,’ say, ‘I am.’ Luther wants us to see that God is pleased with whatever vocation we are in, no matter how lowly or seemingly insignificant it is. Luther continues, “Next to faith this is the highest art- to be content with the calling in which God has placed you.” The person who is godly in his or her vocation is not the one who always wishes they had someone else’s position, but the one who fulfills his own position to the best of his ability, to the benefit of neighbours and to the glory of God.
Dear friends, like our Lord Himself as an infant we are always fleeing the dark powers of this world. But we are neither running scared or helpless. Rather, through the Spirit’s power we are salt; we are light; we are vessels of mercy, we are beacons of hope to those caught in vicious cycles of darkness, addiction and despair. We are baptized for these very tasks. We are people of the incarnation. “To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”6 “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things.”7
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday After Christmas
29 December 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 2:34-35
2 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
3 Galatians 4:4-5
4 Matthew 5:17
5 Hebrews 2:14-15
6 Isaiah 9:6
7 Psalm 98:1