When People Threaten Our Thrones...

Text:  Matthew 2:13-18

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

This morning we as a church remember The Holy Innocents - the young boys whom Herod and his soldiers murdered thousands of years ago in their attempt to kill the Christ Child. 

These young little boys are called the Holy Innocents, because they were the first martyrs to lose their lives for Mary’s baby - Jesus. 

Today, we can all grieve the loss of these approximate 20 children from the city of Bethlehem.  Our hearts can wrench in pain over the grief, fear, and horror that was thrust upon the mothers, fathers, and families by King Herod’s bloody sword.  However, grief and remorse are not enough for us this day.  No, to simply feel bad and to simply shake our heads and say, “ah, shucks,” does not do justice to commemorate these little ones.  What am I saying?  We actually honor and remember these Holy Innocents best when we allow their deaths to speak to us today; we must allow their story, their death, and the sin that led to their butchery to impact and work on us. 

With that said, taking pause and meditating upon our Gospel reading from today, we hear what sin is like.  We hear “what sin is like most obviously in the damage when one sins.  This is horribly clear with Herod.  Herod loved Herod.  Herod wanted himself to be big.  He got power for himself no matter by what means and no matter at what cost to others.  When he suspected his wife or sons of endangering his power, he simply had them executed.”[1]  When he heard about a Messiah being born in Bethlehem, he ordered Bethlehem’s children to be slaughtered.  And so it goes with sinners like Herod, me, and you: we put ‘ourselves’ as number one while stomping everything and everyone under our foot.  Yes, “When we put ourselves first, then everybody else comes second.  Herod had the power to subordinate people to himself.  Most of us sinners do not have [as] much power; therefore, the damage we do [to] others in putting them second is not [as] spectacular as Herod’s efforts in Bethlehem.  But the basic principle of sin remains the same. . . . [In other words,] when people get in our way, we do not have the use of Herod’s sword, but we know how to get rid of them.”[2]

And so it goes.  Sin, my friends, corrupts us by setting our eyes upon ourselves and not our neighbor, and especially not upon our Lord.  This inward looking – which is known as selfishness, greed, egoism, narcissism, and so forth – ultimately flicks God off the throne and has us supposedly take over the role of God where we are in apparent control and where we can get what we want, when we want it, and whenever we want it.  Furthermore, as we sit upon the throne as number one, everything is corrupted: reality, ethics, and especially God’s handiwork; sin corrupts the way that we value life.  In other words, if we refuse to acknowledge that we are creatures of God – that we are number two - and if we kick God off of his throne and place ourselves as number one, “then, naturally, [we] also fail to recognize [our] neighbor as a creature of God [as well].  [As a result, we]then do not value and deal with [our] neighbor according to his or her connection with God but only according to the connection with [us].  If [our] neighbor is not understood in connection with God, then he or she has value to [us] only as he or she is useful to [us] and [we can then] feel free to push him or her around to suit [our own] convenience.”[3]  

Objectively: when Herod killed those children, he was damaging these little babes, their parents, himself, and the Lord.  However, subjectively none of this mattered if Herod is on the throne.  Otherwise stated, since these children threatened Herod’s throne, their value did not matter.  With Herod, value is given to that which enhances Herod’s throne and the label of ‘evil’ is ascribed to that which threatens Herod’s throne.  Herod’s criteria for determining the value of life was himself – his choice.  That which enhanced Herod was good; that which threatened Herod was evil.  The Messiah was among the children in Bethlehem; the Messiah was a threat; therefore, damn those children and damn the Messiah… no, let’s butcher them. 

Like Herod, we creatures unfortunately have not done too well with the criteria in which we have used to determine life’s value.  We have used ethnicity as a basis for value and ended up with places like Auschwitz and Cambodia and Croatia and Rwanda—hundreds of thousands of people brutally slaughtered that did not serve a certain ethnicity’s agenda. We have used skin color as a basis for value and ended up with slave trading and civil war and discrimination and lynching—thousands upon thousands of lives lost that didn’t serve the aspirations of a certain color of skin. Now we use whether you are born or not as a basis for value and end up with abortion being the most common surgical procedure done is this country. Millions upon millions of lives lost in brutal ways – over 50 million lives that would have forced mothers and father to become a number two – lives that were an inconvenience.  More and more we use health as a basis for value and end up with assisted suicide and euthanasia and “killing as a means of caring” and the elderly being led to believe they have the “duty to die.” Millions of people with disabilities and people in nursing homes are increasingly at risk of hastened deaths, because they have become an unnecessary burden upon the hopes and dreams of their family and friends.[4]

Like Herod, all of these examples have a common thread.  They use mankind’s criteria of ‘self’ as the basis of life. That which is not of the same ethnicity, race, status, age, ability, and intellect… that which will not prop up my throne and my kingdom is deemed as worthless and an inconvenience and must be put to death.  For example: in pregnancies, it is a child in the womb if it is wanted and if it will enhance the family; however, it is considered a blob of tissue if it is unwanted and will ruin the future dreams of a mother and father.  In other words, children in the womb are never referred to as blobs of tissue when the desired outcome is birth; whereas, they are routinely referred to as blobs of tissue or fetuses when their desired outcome is termination.    

Frankly my friends, Herod’s ethics of seeing good in that which enhanced him and evil in that which threatened him, actually runs rampant in our modern day and age.  Our culture and our mindset push almighty God around like He is a weak puppet.  We kick Him out of the driver seat on to the curb, grab the wheel ourselves, and drive the way that we so desire that enhances our throne, and think we can get away with it.  However, when we try to overthrow God, it is not God who grieves, but it is ultimately us. 

When Herod killed those children, he believed that he was preserving himself and his throne; however, he was digging a grave to hell.  By killing those children to serve his throne he believed that he was doing that which was good; however, he was in reality destroying God’s creation, estranging himself from the Lord, and aligning himself with death, damnation, and the jaws of hell. 

Dear friends, we are not master and commanders of the universe.  We are not the creator.  When we harm our neighbor, especially the least of these in the womb, we are damaging a piece of God’s workmanship, God’s creature.  “God meant that person for something, and if [we] injure him or her, [we are] working against God.”[5]  We even fail our neighbor when we fail to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.  We share in the blame when we fail to deal with issues because we think they are only political problems or social ills.

It seems that the epidemic of Herod’s ideology is widespread in all of us.  Indeed, not only is King Herod the unholy patron saint of Planned Parenthood, but his ideology is held by each and every one of us to a certain degree, for we all want to be number one while subordinating others to our will and our desires. 

God have mercy on you and on me.  Christ have mercy on all of us. 

Dear Baptized Saints, you, who have ears, hear.  “God could have come with terrible power and slain Herod and all like him.  But if He [slaughtered] everyone prepared to put themselves first, there would be none of us left.  [Therefore,] He came the way of love, which knows that we are not made better by force. . . . Force deals only with the outside of a person.  [However,] when God came [He] came to save us from sin.  [He came to save us from ourselves.]  He used not force but love – love that brought Him to a stinking stable and a cruel cross.”[6]

Dear Baptized Saints, “Jesus did not put Himself first.  He was there for us.  [He was there for you.]  His whole life was such action of love.  It fulfilled the will of God.  He lived the life that is expected of us, and He died the death that was coming to us for our sin.”[7]

Baptized Saints, sin is always out to destroy.  Sin, as seen in Herod’s life, tempts you to put yourself as number one, but in the end it destroys your loved one, estranges you from God, and kills you.  The Lord though, is not content to give up on you and let you sit on His throne.  No, God carried His plan on even though Herod attempted to slaughter Jesus.  He carries His plan on for you, even though sin continually wreaks havoc on you – when you attempt to be number one.  You see, He daily comes to you and me and returns us to our baptism that by contrition and repentance, sin may be drowned and die.  He returns you and me to our baptisms, so that we may be put to death.  But through all of this we know that God has joined Himself to you and me and to those slain babies in Bethlehem in order to grant us everlasting life.  He was determined to have you as His possession, which means that He will not forsake you and will not forsake The Holy Innocents.  But rather, we, with these babes, will be lifted up in the end unto glory, free from sin, to the Lord’s presence, where there will be no more pain, fear, or grief, but rest, joy, and praise.  This is most certainly true, for Christ did not put Himself first, but put you, me, and The Holy Innocents first by living, bleeding, dying, and rising for us. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 325.

[2] Ibid, 326.

[3] Ibid, 326.

[4] James Lamb, “Hands that Knit; Arms that Hold” Lutherans for Life, http://www.lutheransforlife.org/sermon/hands-that-knit-arms-that-hold/ (accessed January 1, 2016). 

[5] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, 326-327.

[6] Ibid, 327.

[7] Ibid. 

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