A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
First Sunday after Christmas – December 26, 2004
Text: Matthew 2:16-18
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What an unhappy gospel text we read this morning! The day after Christmas, cozy in our warm memories of friends and family these last two days, to say it’s difficult for us to hear these words of God is an understatement. We want to sing Christmas carols. We want to hear again about shepherds and angels. The last thing we want is to hear about a murderous king and the massacre he inflicted.
And that’s precisely why this text is placed before us this morning. It’s in our nature to sentimentalize the story of Jesus, and especially of his birth. We love Christmas because its greeting-card images and heartwarming carols make us feel safe and happy, as if all is well in the world. The slaughter of the innocents by King Herod snaps us out of our Christmas cocoon and makes us sharply aware of how costly God’s free grace is, and of how deeply we need it. When we sterilize the story of Jesus, at the same time we sterilize God’s grace, making it a cheap sentiment instead of the powerful salvation he intends it to be.
Because the grace which our Father has shown us through Jesus has come at a tremendous price in tears and in blood. From the very beginning it has been so. If we will set aside our Christmas cards and pageants for a moment we will start to see with clear eyes the pains of childbirth that brought our Savior into this world, no less extraordinary for being common to every mother and every birth. We will hear the cries of Mary’s birthing, sometimes stifled, sometimes piercing the night, as she and her child struggle together to bring him to birth. We will smell the mother’s blood, steaming on the straw in the cold Bethlehem night. We will kneel beside Joseph and wipe away the salt of her tears as she holds that child of hers in her arms at last. Yes, there are many and great wonders to be known that night, and joys beyond words to be felt…but first comes the awful sacrifice of blood and tears that Mary, our Lord’s loving mother, offered up to God. The grace of God, freely given to us, is the farthest thing from cheap.
The innocent children of Bethlehem and its country were the unholy sacrifice of Herod. Their blood and the tears of their families are part of the Christ child’s story. God never willed for such an abomination to happen, yet it was inevitable that the rulers of this world would fear and hate the infant King. Add Herod’s murders to the tab of your grace, received freely from God. Add the howling of the parents, and…yes, the howling of God at such a crime. These babes did not die for you, but they died on account of the one who did. Once again tears and blood drops leave their mark on the grace that you have been given. It is yours without payment, but its cost was mighty.
But our Lord is not cruel. He did not long for the tears of Mary – there is no other way for a child to be born to a mother. He did not wish for the blood of his tiny brothers and sisters – a hateful king made that horrid sacrifice. Jesus did not come to bring suffering, but life. It is a sad truth that the road to that gift of life must be marked by such great sacrifices.
Jesus our Lord reserved the greatest sacrifice for himself, the one that all other sacrifices point to and depend on. Bearing all of our burdens, our sorrows, our sins and our deaths on himself, the baby Jesus would one day choose the cross for us. His blood and his tears would be the final sacrifices; they would become the ultimate gift of God’s grace. Through Jesus’ willing death on the cross, death was finally conquered for us, and through his resurrection, eternal life was given to us. Without the tears, there would be no joy. Without the blood, there would be no life.
We remember the Holy Innocents in the midst of Christmas because they point us to the costly grace that God has given us freely in the newborn Christ child. They undermine the complacent, sentimental holiday our world celebrates, and warn us never to take for granted the price paid for our freedom. The true joy of Christmas is not a warm and fuzzy thing – it is instead a deep, profound gratitude and an always growing awe at the lengths gone to so that all God’s children, our brothers and sisters, every one, might be saved.
May the power of God’s salvation in blood and tears move you this Christmastime to ever deeper gratitude for his gift of salvation, and may it inspire you to offer your own blood and tears in the service of his marvelous good news.
Christmas blessings to you. Amen.