1st Sunday after Christmas – LSB #342
Text – Matthew 2:16
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that entire region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
Where does evil come from?
This morning, I’d like our meditation on the Word of God to begin with thinking about your favorite aspect of Christmas. Is it the bright lights and the beautiful decorations? Is it time spent with family and other people you love? Are you waiting to see the look on the face of that person for whom you found the absolute perfect gift?
One of my favorite moments is singing Silent Night with the candles flickering in the darkened sanctuary of God. Another favorite of mine is any time that we’re singing O Little Town of Bethlehem. As a pastor, one of the moments I love best is seeing families together, kneeling at the communion rail, to receive the work of the Holy Spirit as He erases their sins.
All those things are in stark contrast to the words of Matthew’s Gospel that form the sermon text for this morning. Did you notice the disparity, or are the words too awful to give any consideration to? “Herod… sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under…” Did you tune out God’s Word?
This morning I want them, as the Word of God, to sink in to our hearts and minds, because they tell us why Jesus came! They tell us why Jesus came in a manner that is, in some ways, more powerful than the classic Christmas story that Luke tells.
King Herod represents the dark side of the gospel. He reminds us that Jesus did not enter a world of sparkly Christmas cards, or a place of warm spiritual sentiment. Jesus entered a world of real pain, of serious dysfunction, a world of brokenness and political oppression. Jesus entered your life and all of its sadness, darkness, confusion, and suffering. As complicated and difficult as that is, it is still good news, gospel news. It just takes more effort on our part, to come to grips with. St. Paul refers to that struggle and effort in 1st Corinthians when he makes a distinction between offering solid food or milk as our spiritual nourishment.
So today, we are on the other side of Christmas. All the buildup and the anticipation is gone. In the secular world, even the happy holidays are over. It’s on to the New Year, and the major college bowl games. The world isn’t ready to face the cause of our trials and tribulations. The apostle Matthew, however, is doing his best to help you face yours.
We’re a mere four days from, “…Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 ESV) Yet, on this other side of Christmas, Matthew reveals the senseless suffering of many caused by the evil king Herod.
However, Matthew also gives insight into the unstoppable nature of God’s salvation as Herod is prevented from destroying the child Jesus. Christ’s time to die on our behalf had not yet come. First, He had to live, for us, the perfect life we are incapable of. He needed to love His neighbor as Himself to replace our continual failure to do so.
As unfair as the comparison seems to be, we are just as guilty as Herod of senseless evil. Later in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus is full grown, He tells His disciples, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.’” (15:19 ESV)
So Jesus answers the sermon title, “Where does evil come from?” Among others it also comes from your heart and mine. The next time you’re tempted to lay a guilt trip on someone, “Come on, have a heart!” you may want to think twice. We are programmed by the world, and we are predisposed by sin, to think of the human heart as essentially good, especially our own.
It’s the I’m okay you’re okay type of theology. It says that Herod became an evil man
because he had an evil father or mother. He must have been scarred in some way during his childhood to turn out like he did. It’s the type of ‘spirituality’ which never accepts the blame for anything I do wrong. Evil must always be someone else’s fault. That’s one manner in which my sinful nature makes excuses for itself so I do not have to accept responsibility.
When St. Luke tells the events of Jesus’ birth, a lot of people find it to be a beautiful and inspiring story, but often for the wrong reasons. Jesus came to take responsibility for all those times that we failed to, or even refused to, be responsible for our thoughts, our words and our deeds. Jesus came to take our place, and King Herod’s place, under the wrath of God.
That is what we should find to be beautiful and inspiring - that Jesus is overcoming the evil in your heart and in mine, along with the evil that thrived in the heart of Herod. Because if Jesus did not come to pay the price for the sins of Herod, can you be sure that He paid the price for yours? If God dies on the cross, can His death pay for anything less than the sins of everyone?
That’s why, on the 1st Sunday after Christmas, we hear of the senseless suffering caused by King Herod, yet, the Holy Spirit also shares the news that Herod’s evil can go only as far as God allows it. God’s salvation in Jesus remains unstoppable. Though the effects of sin and death remain strong in our day as well, evil can trespass only so far.
The reasons to lament persist. The weeping never gets easier. But the Lord who delivered His children from Egypt through Moses, and the God who delivered His Son from death through a victorious resurrection, is the Creator who has sent you to proclaim the coming deliverance of all who are found in Christ Jesus.
God remains mysteriously and incomprehensibly the Lord over all things – even senseless suffering – and His gracious salvation is the preacher’s response to the many reasons we have to lament. Senseless suffering comes in a multitude of forms. Sometimes the resemblance with the boys from Bethlehem is strong. Unnumbered boys and girls have suffered violence even before birth, not to mention the countless children who live with regular neglect and abuse. The senseless suffering on the other side of Christmas is not limited to children, and it was not unique to Bethlehem.
For people who’ve had an abortion, for those who’ve performed an abortion, for everyone who has stood silently by, on all sides of abortion procedures, this text offers the hope and the comfort of the forgiveness of sins.
There are plenty of people weeping and lamenting because their Christmas celebrations have been marred by the deadly effects of many different sins. But senseless suffering is not the only thing we find on the other side of Christmas. In the midst of the tragedy of life in a sinful and violent world, God’s plan of salvation proved itself unstoppable.
No matter how hard Herod tried, God would not let this child suffer; not yet, at least. With a series of angelic visitors, God led Joseph to protect the Christ-child from the threat of violence. Much like His deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, God called his Son out of Egypt again. But the promised land Jesus came to establish would be for all the nations.
This sermon is not the end all and be all of the answer to the question, Where Does Evil Come From? Ultimately, what it boils down to is this, “Do you believe that God is good, and that He loves you?” As children of God, that struggle will continue throughout our lives here on earth. In closing, I’d like you to consider the answer of someone who lived through horrible evil.
Corrie ten Boom, the woman from the Netherlands whose family had hidden Jews in their apartment and helped some to escape the death camp, was eventually imprisoned with her sister and mother at Ravensbrück, one of the infamous concentration camps of Nazi Germany. After the war Corrie traveled the world to tell her story of suffering in the context of faith in God. During the 33 years following Ravensbrück, she never had a permanent home. When she was 85 years old, some friends provided a lovely home for her in California. It was a luxury that stretched beyond her wildest dreams. One day a friend visited and remarked, “Corrie, hasn’t God been good to give you this beautiful place to live?” Corrie replied firmly, “God was good to me also when I was in Ravensbrück.
Now that we are on the other side of Christmas, with all the hopes and the anticipations being gone, it can be difficult to move forward as we realize that sin and evil are still in our lives and in our world. The cross of Jesus Christ shows us that God is good and that He loves us. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proves that God is strong and able to overcome evil. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet