Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to Catch Men

Sermon on Mark 1:14-20
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 25, 2015 (The Third Sunday after the Epiphany)

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells Andrew and Peter that He will make them fishers of men.  This text is one that is often referred to when speaking about missions and evangelism, that is, deliberate outreach into the community around us or around the world.  What Jesus is saying is that the Church is to “catch” people into His Kingdom who do not already know Him, and so bring them to the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of mission speakers and evangelism experts who use the imagery of fishing to explain how it is we are to go about catching men.  But what I’ve often heard is that we are to choose the right “bait,” that is, find a felt need that will draw people’s attention to our church, and use the right marketing techniques (that is, make the bait move in a lifelike way using various techniques with the rod and the fishing line) to draw people in.  There has been a whole movement in American Christianity (including among Missouri Synod Lutherans) that encourages and teaches churches how to do evangelism in this way.  The idea seems to be that if we can meet the needs people already know (or think they know) that they have, they will come to our church and have a chance of hearing about their true need for forgiveness, and how that need is met in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now, to be sure, there is an element of truth in the “felt needs” approach to evangelism.  The fact that human beings have unmet needs at all is a symptom of the problem of original sin, and where the Gospel is preached there God’s people will try to alleviate, as best they can, the needs and the problems that are created by sin in the world, as a way of illustrating eternal life, where sin and its effects won’t bother us at all.  This is why churches have historically been the place of charity.  Many schools, hospitals, nursing homes, soup kitchens, shelters, and other charitable organizations have been founded by churches for precisely this reason.  The problem is not with the idea of meeting people’s needs as such.  The problem is when meeting people’s needs in this life crowds out the true need that lies at the root of all the other problems, namely sin, and thus Jesus becomes not a savior from sin but an example to follow in social ministry.  And that happens far too often, both among liberals who seek to meet the felt needs of the poor through social gospel, and among conservatives who seek to meet the felt needs of suburbanites through church as group therapy or good advice with regard to finances, relationships, etc.

In any case, when it comes to using today’s Gospel lesson as a proof-text for the “felt needs” approach to evangelism and church growth, I do think many interpreters are missing the point.  Most of the analogy I’ve described up to this point of how fishing is done comes from modern recreational fishing, in which you either go out in a boat or stand on a dock or a pier, and cast bait out using a fishing rod and line, and try to trick the fish into biting by your selection of bait and how you move it through the water.  However, that wasn’t the kind of fishing that Andrew and Peter would have been familiar with.  In fact, that kind of fishing hadn’t even been invented yet.  These men weren’t recreational fishermen.  They didn’t use bait, or fishing lines, or poles.  They didn’t go after their fish one at a time, trying to trick the fish into grabbing the bait and becoming hooked on the line.  Commercial fishermen don’t do that.  What commercial fishermen do is simply run a big net through an area of the water where there is a large school of fish, and draw in all the fish that have unwillingly been caught in the net.  This technique hasn’t changed much during the centuries since Jesus spoke these words.  Of course, motors have replaced sails, and the fiber the net is made out of is far more advanced a material than they used in Jesus’ day, but the idea is the same.  Trying to appeal to the fish in order to draw them into the boat isn’t even a consideration here.  The net simply catches a bunch of fish.  Some escape, some don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because the net is what does the work, and often it’s completely random which fish are caught and which aren’t.

And so, when Jesus told Peter and Andrew that they were going to catch men, He wasn’t telling them they’d be using bait and a hook to draw men into the Church one by one.  He was telling them that they were simply going to put the Word of Law and Gospel out there, and let the Word itself do all the work.  Who is brought to repentance by the preaching of the Law and then brought to faith by the preaching of the Gospel, is something of a random chance as far as we can tell.  Only God knows why this one repents and that one escapes the net.  It’s not a matter of technique.  It’s a matter of simply letting down the net and dragging it through the water.  God’s Word does what it says.  It will bear fruit, when, where and as He chooses, and often does in the unlikeliest of places.

And that’s a good thing.  The most unlikeliest of places for God’s Word to bear fruit is the human heart, including yours and mine.  We were born enemies of God, and have no natural ability to believe in Him or come to him.  The Word catches us unwillingly, many of us before we were even aware of it, by means of the Word in and with the Baptismal water.  The Word transforms us, makes us into those who believe in Jesus Christ.  We are drawn into the Church by the power of the Word alone.  It’s not the technique or the skills or the personality of the pastor, or what services and activities are offered by the particular congregation.  It’s the Word itself that does the work.

And work it does.  What the Word says about us is that we are perfect and holy, because Christ was perfect and holy in our place, and when the Father looks at us, He sees us through Christ.  And the Word does what it says.  We are declared forgiven, and a clean heart and right spirit that are without sin really are created in us by that Word.  We are declared to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and that’s what we are.  And that’s what we have to declare to those around us.  The Word itself will do the work.  The Word itself will draw those who repent and believe the Gospel into the Church, just as it does for us, Sunday after Sunday.  The Word itself makes them, along with us, citizens of eternity.  The Word Himself feeds us with the food of heaven, and will bring us at last to dwell with Him forever.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Peter, Thomas, and Nathaniel

Sermon on John 1:43-51
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 18, 2015 (The Baptism of our Lord)

If you ever had any doubts about whether the Gospels are factual history or mythology, today’s Gospel lesson convince you that what we are dealing with here is a factual account of what really happened.  Mythological heroes just don’t talk like this.  Nathaniel, one of the twelve apostles, one of the founders of the earliest Christian Church, is here depicted as being sarcastic about Jesus’ home town, and Jesus Himself gives a bit of a wry observation about Nathaniel’s personality.  Nazareth?  Can anything good come from Nazareth?  Might as well ask if anything good can come from Gary, Indiana.  And what Jesus says about Nathaniel, while it is a compliment, is one of those compliments that could be taken as a criticism, too.  “A true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit,” sounds like high praise.  But what Jesus is talking about here is the fact that Nathaniel pretty much says whatever he’s thinking.  He’s incapable of deceit, not because he is any better than anyone else; Nathaniel too was born in sin, a descendant of Adam and Eve.  Rather, he’s incapable of deceit because his mental filters just aren’t that good.  He blurts out what he’s thinking even if what he’s thinking is a bit insulting or impolite, such as his commentary on the town where Jesus grew up.

But it is such imperfect men as Nathaniel that God uses to spread His kingdom here on earth.  Show me a perfect pastor and I’ll show you a faker who probably has more than a few skeletons in his closet.  It is precisely because He’s God and all the glory should go to Him that he uses sinful men as His messengers.  It’s precisely because He’s God and He’s all-powerful that He uses those who aren’t necessarily all that great at public relations, or who easily lose their temper, or are stubborn, or are wishy-washy, or lazy, or any of a thousand other faults, to bring His Word to those who need to hear it.  It is His power, and His power alone, that is at work when the Word is preached.  To make that point, He uses men who just don’t have the talents or the personality to draw a large following, to bring His good news of forgiveness and eternal life to their fellow sinners.  It must be God working, because if it were up to us, we would fail, and fail miserably.

Today is also known in the Church year as “The Confession of St. Peter,” and the Gospel lesson for that festival is the account of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  What Jesus says to Peter on that occasion also applies to what Nathaniel says this morning as well: “Blessed are you, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”  Nathaniel also confesses who Jesus really is, the long-awaited Messiah, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh come down to earth to save us.  But how was that revealed to Nathaniel?  Yes, there was a miracle involved, namely that Jesus saw Nathaniel and knew him when he was in a place where he thought he was alone.  But ultimately it was the Word of God which informed Nathaniel of who Jesus is: the Messiah promised for hundreds of years, going all the way back to the promise in Genesis 3 that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head, and following throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.  That’s partly why Nathaniel believed even though he only saw the one minor miracle: He knew the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word.

But Jesus does promise him that he will see much greater things than this.  The heavens will open, and he will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  It is precisely Jesus who is the ladder of Jacob.  Nathaniel’s ancestor Jacob, also known as Israel, after whom the nation of Israel is named, saw a staircase reaching from heaven to earth, symbolizing that God would come down to us to rescue us from our sin.  Jesus here identifies Himself as that staircase, as well as the man who wrestled with Jacob that same night and renamed him Israel.  To the true Israelite, who cannot deceive because he’s too blunt and even rude, God will show His salvation, His route down from heaven to join us, share in our sufferings, and take us up with Him into glory.

You see, Nathaniel is not the only one in this Gospel lesson who is without deceit.  There is another here who cannot lie.  But Jesus’ truthfulness is different from Nathaniel’s.  Jesus’ truthfulness doesn’t come from a lack of mental filters or a tendency to blurt things out.  But Jesus’ truthfulness doesn’t come from scrupulousness in always speaking true things, either.  Jesus is without deceit simply because He’s God, the Son of the Father, the Word by which the heavens were made.  What He says, is.  Which is why it is by His Word, even when spoken by sinful men, that faith is created in the heart, even the cynical heart which doubts anything good can come from humble beginnings.  The Word does what it says, despite doubt and cynicism.

This Gospel lesson comes from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel.  Near the very end of that same Gospel, there is an account involving another disciple who confesses Jesus as the Son of God.  Every year on the First Sunday after Easter we hear the story of St. Thomas, who claimed he needed to see Jesus to believe in His resurrection.  What Jesus says to Thomas then, is an echo of what happens here in Nathaniel’s case.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.  Which is why God calls preachers.  Which was why Jesus called Nathaniel, and Thomas, and Peter.  All had personality flaws, all had doubts.  All were sinners forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ death on the cross.  It’s the Word itself that does the work.  As we go forth and confess to our friends and neighbors what we’ve heard from God, that’s a comfort for us as well.  The Word itself does the work.  The Word itself comes down to us and gives us eternal life.  The Word Himself comes to us personally to forgive our sins and give us His own body and blood.  It’s all the Word.  It’s all Jesus.  And that’s all that’s necessary.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Fire and Water

Sermon on Mark 1:4-11
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 11, 2015 (The Baptism of our Lord)

In today’s Gospel, John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  But where has the Holy Spirit promised to be found?  In the word.  Holy Baptism is not simple water only, but it is water comprehended in and connected with God’s Word.  It is water comprehended in and connected with the Holy Spirit.  Which means that “water baptism” and “Holy Spirit baptism” aren’t two different things, but two descriptions of one and the same thing.  Now, St. Luke in his parallel to today’s text, quotes John as saying that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Which means that to be baptized with water and God’s Word, water and the Holy Spirit, is also to be baptized in fire.

Fire is a useful thing, but it is dangerous if it is not properly contained.  Fire provides heat for our homes, it causes our cars and trucks to move down the road, it cooks food, and a thousand other useful things.  But it provides all these benefits by destroying its fuel.  And that’s why fire is dangerous.  If not properly controlled it will use all sorts of things as fuel which ought not be burned, including ourselves.  It may be useful, but it’s not tame.

But there are uses for fire that rely on the fact that fire is destructive.  This is how fire becomes purifying.  Metals are refined using extreme heat, because it is only in a molten state that impurities can be removed.  It is this use of fire that John is talking about when he describes the baptism of Christ as being a baptism in fire.  Our sins, our impurities, are removed from us in Holy Baptism.  When we come forth from the waters of Holy Baptism, that which is not pure in us, the Old sinful Adam, has been put to death and a new, pure man in Christ has been created to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Another way of saying this is to say that we who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death, so that even as Christ is risen from the dead we too should walk in newness of life.  We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death, so that even as Christ is risen from the dead so we also should walk in newness of life.  When you were baptized, you died, in other words.  It sounds pretty harsh to say it that way, but it’s the truth.  When you were baptized, you died, and then you were raised to a new life.  The continuous forgiveness you receive by faith every day, and the forgiveness you receive from my mouth every Sunday in Holy Absolution, are simply part of your Baptism, where the Old Adam is daily drowned so that the New Man can daily come forth and arise.  This is how the water of baptism functions as fire in your life.  It destroys the Old Adam so that the New Man in Christ can arise.

If all of this is true, though, and Baptism purifies us from our sinfulness, then we need to ask, why did Christ need to be Baptized?  After all, He was without sin in the first place.  He didn’t need to be purified of His sins, because He didn’t have any.  In fact, John asks Him this very question when He comes to be baptized.  St. Matthew records that part of the conversation.  The answer is that just as we were baptized into Christ’s righteousness, He was baptized into our sin.  When He was baptized, He was beginning His public ministry, He was taking on His role as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And He didn’t just make that sin vanish; He took it upon Himself and bore it to the cross.  It was at His Baptism that Christ became the one who takes away our sin, and it is for this reason that His Baptism in the Jordan River is important to us.  Christ was baptized into our sinfulness so that we can be baptized into His righteousness.  Which means He went through the fires of Hell so that we can be warmed and lightened by His face in heaven.

This season in the Church Year is known as the season of the Epiphany, after the festival of the Epiphany, also known as the coming of the wise men, which we celebrated last Sunday.  The word Epiphany means “shining out” or “shining forth.”  The idea is that the Gospel lessons during the Epiphany season show us how Jesus shines forth as God even though He is also man, and even though He is living as a humble and lowly servant of us all.  Here at Jesus’ Baptism, where He begins His public ministry as the Lamb of God who takes up and takes away the sins of the world, His divine nature shines forth through the testimony that the Father and the Holy Spirit bear of who He is.  He is the Son of God, in whom the Father is well-pleased.  He is the one to whom the Holy Spirit testifies.  He is God become man so that mankind might be restored to fellowship with God.  The Father declares that He is well-pleased with the Son, because the Son is sinless.  And because the Son is sinless, He can carry our sins to the cross and burn them up there.  The whole Trinity testifies to the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Fire gives light.  The refiners’ fire which purges our sins away from us is what shines forth in the coming of Christ to the world.  But then He subjects Himself to that fire on the cross.  In  fact, He is our light, our source of warmth and light, because He becomes the fuel for the fire.  He bears our sin to the cross.  He becomes our sin.  And He burns it up in Himself.  Which is why even though the fire purifies us, and make no mistake that is painful because it means putting ourselves to death, it grants us warmth and light and ushers us into the eternal light that comes from God’s face.  Life comes from death.  The broken body and shed blood warm and enlighten us as we partake of them.  And yet they come from the cross, which is where Christ’s light comes from, precisely because He has taken the darkness into Himself and burned it up.  We have the light of heaven because we have the light that comes from the cross.  Amen.  

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Troubled

I'm not sure why I didn't post the last two weeks' sermons, but here they are for your enjoyment.

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 4, 2015 (The Feast of the Epiphany)

These men didn’t show up in Judea by accident.  The Lord had led them there.  Exactly how He did that is something of a debate among Christian historians.  Some think they were simply pagan astrologers who saw a particular star in the heavens that corresponded to their own system of reading important events, and that, because God wanted them to show up, He made it so that their astrology happened to be right this one particular time.  Others, including myself, suspect that these men were students from the order of scholars in Babylon, the same order of wise men of whom the prophet Daniel had been the wisest during Judah’s exile in Babylon.  In this case, these men would have been believers in the coming Messiah on the basis of that portion of the Old Testament which had already been written at the time of the exile.

There are also many theories about the nature of the star they saw.  Virtually all modern depictions of the manger scene include a large, highly visible star in the sky over the stable where our Lord was born.  But because it was only these men from the east who noticed the event, I doubt it was nearly as far out of the ordinary as most of our modern Christmas artwork portrays it, but was rather something the average person would have dismissed as simply another star, but which only had meaning to those who spent their lives studying the movements of heavenly objects.  If that’s true, then what was it, exactly?  Was it a confluence of various planets?  Was it really a star God miraculously caused to shine in that time and place but which ordinarily wasn’t there?  And if so, was it a supernatural miracle or did He use the natural phenomenon we know as a supernova, where a star explodes and becomes more visible in telescopes, or even to the naked eye, than it previously would have been, before fading again?

The fact is, there is a huge amount of information we don’t know about the visit of these men from the east.  We don’t even know if some or all of them were kings, or how many of them there were, despite the popular idea of the “three kings,” one for each of the gifts they brought.  But their visit is significant not so much in how it came about, but in what it signifies about the Child they came to worship.  And yes, the text does say they came to “worship” the Child.  Whatever else they did or did not know about the prophecies of the coming Messiah, they knew that this Child was God in the flesh.  They knew that none other than the creator of heaven and earth was present before them, receiving their worship and adoration.

The contrast between these men and those who were in power among the Judeans of that time is obvious.  Last week we talked about the bloodthirsty dictator called Herod who slaughtered all the male babies under two years old in and around Bethlehem in a vain attempt to kill this supposed usurper of his throne.  The religious leaders were troubled, too.  Their own power over the people of Judea was also being challenged here.  Unlike Herod, they clearly knew Who they were dealing with.  Micah’s prophecy they quoted to Herod was clearly about the coming Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, the Suffering Servant, the Son whom the virgin would conceive, Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  These same religious leaders would hound Jesus during his whole ministry, eventually putting Him to death for being the One they, in fact, knew Him to be, namely God the Son.

We’d like to think we would have been among the wise men and not those in Jerusalem who were upset by the whole thing.  Or perhaps we would have been among the humble Old Testament believers who already lived in Judea, such as Mary and Joseph themselves, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their son John, Simeon, Anna, and so on.  That’s where we’d put ourselves in the story if we had to imagine we were part of these events.

But it troubles us when the Scriptures remind us of God’s Law, doesn’t it?  It troubles us when we’re reminded that we haven’t been perfect.  And it’s not just that we haven’t been perfect.  It’s not just that we’ve done a few things wrong.  It’s troubling to us when we realize that even our best and most pious good works are stained by the corruption of selfishness and pride which stains everything we do.  It offends us when we are reminded that our relationship with our creator is not going along happily and swimmingly the way we’d like it to.  In this we aren’t so different from the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  For that matter, we’re not so different from Herod himself.  Anything that puts something other than ourselves on the throne of our hearts becomes an object of our wrath and hatred.  Anything that reminds us that there is Someone more important than ourselves who can call us to account is met with discomfort at best, and murderous hatred at worst.

But being the object of hatred and murder was why Jesus came here in the first place.  You heard me right, God came into His creation for the purpose of being hated and killed.  He wasn’t among those infants killed by Herod immediately following today’s Gospel, because it wasn’t His time, but the absorption of all of our hatred and rebellion against Him was why He was born.  The absorption of all the hatred of all mankind against Him was why He was born.  Which means that it is all mankind, not just the members of that nation God had originally chosen to be His ancestors and relatives, which had their hatred and violence against their creator taken away from them by His act of dying on the cross.  Of course, anybody can still reject this wonderful news, and many do to their eternal judgment, but the fact is it was the rebellion of the whole creation against its creator that died on Good Friday, and an entire new creation newly aligned with its creator’s design which rose again Easter Sunday.

What this means for us is that we are among those who have died with this old world and who have risen as citizens of the new heavens and the new earth.  We are the ones who belong to His heavenly court and share in His heavenly banquet.  Which means, ironically, that He is now the one who brings us the true treasures of eternal life.  Our stuff, or money and possessions and even our very bodies, become the gold of heaven which He dispenses freely in love toward Him and service toward our neighbor.  Our prayers become the incense which is pleasing to Him for the sake of Christ and which He answers in the way most beneficial to us and to our neighbors.  And our very graves (which, admittedly, now use embalming fluid rather than myrrh, but the point is the same) become the beds from which we will awake from sleep to live forever in His kingdom.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Holy Innocent Son of God

Sermon on Matthew 2:13-18
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 28, 2014 (The Holy Innocents)

Christmas has consequences.  Jesus Christ is born, and suddenly everything is different.  We move from the Old Testament into the New.  Instead of looking forward to the coming Messiah, God’s people now look back upon Him and His completed sacrifice on our behalf on the cross.  Christmas isn’t just a break from everyday life, a holiday that we celebrate and then go back to our normal lives as if nothing had happened.  The Second Person of the Trinity has taken on human flesh.  Our creator has become one of us.  That’s not something you can ignore.  It changes things.  It changes the world.  And, of course those who have it pretty good in the status quo are going to resist change, even those who used that word as a campaign slogan.  The rich and the powerful, especially, don’t like change that doesn’t serve their purposes and interests.  And there is no more radical change in all the world than the change from allegiance to this world’s prince, Satan, an allegiance into which we were originally born by nature, to an allegiance to the King whose kingdom is not of this world.  The idea that us Christians have an allegiance that goes beyond what we owe to any earthly ruler is threatening to those who seek power and control over their fellow humans.  Right now the big religious bogeyman in our country is Islam, but I would not be surprised to see any religion that makes exclusive claims about itself, including conservative Christianity, being portrayed as an enemy of civilized society before too many more years.  And so it’s not surprising that even before this newborn heavenly King was old enough to humanly understand what was happening, His very existence indirectly resulted in the murder of countless other children his own age in and around Bethlehem.

Today we celebrate an unusual saint’s day.  Most of the days in the Church’s calendar that are devoted to specific saints, are days which observe the lives, ministries, and deaths of individuals who did great and noteworthy things for the Kingdom of God as adults.  But today we remember a group of innocent young boys, killed even before they were old enough to know what was happening.  What we see in today’s Gospel lesson is nothing less than the full fury of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh against God and His gift of salvation and eternal life to us.  It’s not a pretty sight.  We normally tend to avoid thinking about the fact that we human beings are even capable of such brutality and viciousness.  But it happens just the same.  Just as the thousands of innocent victims in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the hijacked airplanes of September 11th are remembered by our country as heroes, even though many of them did nothing more than be in the wrong place at the wrong time, so also these children, the victims of an earlier and less complex (and more officially sanctioned) form of terrorism, are remembered by the Church as heroes as well, since their deaths were directly related to the coming of the Son of God in the flesh to save us from our sins.  So also, by the way, ought we to remember the millions of unborn children that have been murdered in our nation since 1973 simply for the sake of selfishness and convenience.  We have put to death more of our own citizens each and every day since the Roe v. Wade verdict in 1973 than died on September 11th, 2001.  Just as the blood of Abel cried out to God regarding Cain’s guilt, so also cries out the blood of the Holy Innocents, that of the victims of abortion, as well as victims of every other act of violence and murder which has resulted from Cain and Abel’s parents falling into sin.

As their blood cries out to God, we add our voices to it and cry to Him as well: “How long, O Lord, how long?”  Why don’t You do something about it?  The answer, however, is not as simple as we’d like it to be.  You see, if God were simply to wipe out all those who murder and are prideful and want to have things their way, there would be nobody left on the earth.  The attempt to deal with sin the way we want to deal with it, always has unintended consequences, because it is not just our enemies who are selfish and sinful.  We all have the same sin in our hearts as Herod and Hitler and Stalin and, yes, even Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  We may not have acted on that sin in the grossly destructive ways that those men did, but our hearts are no different, neither as individuals nor as a nation.  And so if God were to do away with evil in the world by doing away with all the evil men, we wouldn’t like the results.  He’d do away with us, too.

Instead, God deals with evil in the world in a way that preserves His creatures while cleansing them of their sins.  He does it by taking all of the evil and the selfishness and the pride and the lust and the boastfulness and whatever else is involved in the stain of sin on our hearts, and applying it to His own Son.  That’s why Holy Innocents is celebrated as a festival as one of the 12 days of Christmas.  It stands as a reminder to us of why Christmas happened.  Christmas happened so that Good Friday and Easter could happen.  Christ entered the sin-filled world so that He could take that sin upon Himself and in return give us His perfect and holy life.  He was declared guilty so that we could be declared innocent.

In fact, Jesus is the One who truly bears the title of “Holy Innocent.”  Even those babies in Bethlehem were born sinners like the rest of us, so that even their untimely deaths were not more than they deserved.  But He is the only one that is truly innocent, so that His death sanctifies them and their deaths.  And so, since those Old Testament Christian babies, who had been made part of God’s people and been given faith in the coming Messiah through the sacrament of Circumcision, died in that faith, they too were Holy Innocents, not because of their own righteousness, but because of what their Lord would do for them some 30 years later on the cross, and because of the faith in Him that had been granted through the Old Testament Word and the Sacrament of Circumcision.  And thus their deaths were sanctified by Christ to become for them the gate of eternal life.  And their blood cries out, not just of the sin of Herod, but also and more importantly of the salvation of Him who shed His blood for them on the cross.

The same thing is true of you.  Even though you bear the guilt of sin, not just of original sin but also all of the actual sin you have added to it during the course of our lives, you now carry the name of “Holy Innocents.”  Christ’s perfection has become yours.  You have been baptized into Him and have heard His Word declaring you “not guilty,” and you will soon eat His body and drink His blood which was shed on your behalf.  Therefore your death, whenever it comes, will be a testimony not only, not even primarily, to your sin or the sin of those around you.  Rather your death will proclaim to all the world the salvation which Christ has given you.  Death for Christians has become the gate of everlasting life, where the evils of this present world will no longer trouble us or cause us to weep any more.  Rachel will no longer weep for her children, for there will be no more sin, sorrow, or suffering.  Christ the Innocent One has made all of us Holy Innocents with Him, and we will all share in that blessedness with Him forever.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +