In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Isn’t it amazing, just a few days removed from His birth, and already we hear of the persecution of Jesus Christ. King Herod fears for his throne after hearing the Magi ask, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” And Herod does not tremble alone, for we hear that all of Jerusalem was troubled along with him.
But things are not so different today. Every time the name of Jesus Christ is spoken, someone will be troubled. Every time Christ crucified for salvation is preached, someone will speak out against Him. Every time Jesus is proclaimed to be the only way to heaven and eternal life, someone will speak out against His teaching. Someone will seek Him out, just as bloodthirsty Herod did, and try to wipe out His name from the earth.
Because of Herod and his insecurity, the Child Jesus is persecuted. We read in our text that all male children in Bethlehem and the surrounding area under the age of two were to be put to death. Herod thought somewhere, somehow, this Jesus must be destroyed. And so an angel of Yahweh appeared to Joseph and told him that God’s Promise of a Savior to His people must go back to Egypt as He did before.
Throughout history Egypt has been a traditional place of refuge. There were many Jews in Egypt, and so the Holy Family was not alone there. You will recall from the Old Testament that God made a promise to Abraham that he would be a father of many nations. That promise was kept secure when a famine struck the land. And so Abram, as he was known then, fled to Egypt where the famine was not as severe. Abram and his family would not starve as long as the Promise was intact. And they did not starve; and the Promise continued.
You will recall from the Old Testament that Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery and then tricked Jacob into believing their young brother was mauled by wild animals. In spite of all that, Joseph grew in wisdom and favor with the Yahweh, and he achieved great status within Pharaoh’s rulership. When Joseph’s brothers confessed to their father what they had done, and a famine had struck the known world, Jacob and his sons fled to Egypt after Jacob received a vision from God. And the promise continued as the angel told Jacob, “Do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again.” All of Jacob’s descendants fled to Egypt.
God kept His promise in a most dramatic way through Moses and Aaron. The first half of the book of Exodus displays God’s mighty arm working through Moses and Aaron, delivering the Israelites from Pharaoh and keeping them safe through their journey to the Promised Land.
Years later, God’s children would consistently forget the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Kings refused to serve Yahweh and instead chose false gods, and then forced those false gods upon a willing people. But God raised up prophets to warn the kings and the people about their disobedience. Still, the Promise remained intact, in spite of mankind’s hard-heartedness toward God.
And here in our text the promise was threatened again. Herod sought to destroy Jesus, for he wanted to keep his throne at all costs – even the cost of innocent lives. Such arrogance: killing children for no reason other than to save his own hide! Is this not still the way things go today?
We are approaching the 42nd anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States. Every day, many innocent children are killed simply because of selfish choice. These children are not innocent because they are sinless; they are innocent because they too are children of the Promise, declared “not guilty” by our heavenly Father, who looks to the blood and righteousness of Jesus. And yet sinful mankind thinks he is saving a life by taking a life, pleading to trivialities like “quality of life” or “unplanned pregnancy” as excuses for killing an unborn child. May God have mercy on the souls of those murderers!
Behold Mary’s response to an angel of the LORD when she heard she would give birth to the very Son of God: “Behold the maidservant of the LORD! Let it be to me according to your Word.” Behold Joseph acting quickly when an angel of the LORD told him to take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt to escape the coming persecution. Rachel mourns for her children destroyed by a tyrant who is more concerned with self-preservation than self-humiliation before the King of Kings. Jesus rests safely in His mother’s arms in Egypt. The blood of murdered children innocently cries out for redemption, and the Savior hears their cries.
Jesus Christ died for all – even those who were never given a chance to live –whether they were destroyed by Herod or whether they are destroyed by an abortionist. The truth of the Gospel is the seriousness of why our Lord Christ took on our flesh. He came to destroy the destroyers – sin, death, and the power of the devil. All these things fight constantly against God’s children; they work to suppress the Gospel, smothering it from the public square and trying to wipe out the Name of Christ from the earth.
Some still use the shedding of blood to do it. Others preach the false gospel of “tolerance”, especially in our schools and in the mass media. The Name of the Triune God is dragged through the mud when it is put on the same level as the false gods of Islam, Buddhism, and all other deities who claim to be the way of truth.
But take heart, dear Christian. While the world rages against Christ, there is comfort. Satan’s purpose will not succeed, for Christ lives. Children die, but the Promise lives. Rachel mourns, but the Promise rejoices. Tyrants rule, but the Promise shall overcome them all. All enemies of the Gospel must, sooner or later, bow to King Jesus. His enemies will be brought low, for there is nothing to help them. They may plead tolerance, but the plea will fall short.
Behold the comfort of the Promise in the Child Jesus. He is alive and he is most definitely in charge of the fight against the enemies of your soul. He feeds you with His very Body and Blood in His sacrament, nourishing your soul and enriching the hope within you that the Promise is for all, even for little children.
This Promise is certain. Jesus died for your sins and rose for your justification, which means that sin no longer is master over you. You are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus through your Baptism. It is not your righteousness that makes you holy, but His alone.
Rachel could not be comforted. But she received comfort anyway because she remained in the Promise until death. The comfort she received is your comfort too. Even though children give their lives because of a bloodthirsty tyrant, the Lord Jesus gives them the comfort of everlasting life.
One day, dear friend, your life will be gone, and you do not know the day when it will be required of you. But, as a baptized child of God clinging by faith to all of God’s promises fulfilled in Christ, you will rejoice that day in the garments of comfort given you at your baptism. These garments of rejoicing will be your passport to everlasting glory. You will not journey to Egypt but to Paradise, called out of this world into the life of the world to come.
This, dear Christian, is the comfort of Christmas, of Epiphany, and of every day under the Son of God, who always keeps His Promise.
In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Ghost