Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God’s Love Covers Us” based on Matthew 2:13-23 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 29, 2019
Do you recognize this? It comes it’s a screen shot from The Charlie Brown Christmas Special, first aired back in 1965. Charlie Brown is directing the Christmas program. After a few mishaps he shouts out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus walks onto the stage. “Lights, please” he says. And then he recites Luke 2.
The birth of Christ – that’s what Christmas is all about. Luke records that epic account. Manger. Shepherds. Angels. Peaceful and quiet. All is calm, all is bright.
Matthew also records the same epic account. But he gives us different details. Magi. Star in the east. Herod. Murder plot. Massacre. Escape to Egypt. All is not calm. All is not bright. Yet through it all, we see the Lord is in control; his love covers us.
When they had gone. Who are the “they” and what had they been doing and now where had they gone? Some time after Jesus’ birth magi (wise men) came from the east. They wanted to find Jesus and worship him. So they came to Jerusalem and started asking around… “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Herod, who was King of Judea at the time, heard people asking about a newborn king and he got suspicious…worried. His first instinct is to remove the threat. He secretly summons the magi, pretends like he also wants to worship this Christ Child, and asks the wise men to return once they’ve found the boy. In reality, he wanted to kill the newborn king.
The magi find Jesus, worship him, give him gifts…and because they are warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they went home by another route. Now when they had gone…God sends a warning to Joseph. Why? When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious. You didn’t want to be around when Herod was furious. He had a tendency and a track record of acting irrationally and violently. Once he was worried his brothers were thinking about treason; he killed them…three of them. He killed his favorite wife (he still had nine others). The high priest had an unfortunate “drowning accident” at Herod’s house. Cousins, uncles, even a mother-in-law made it on his hit list.
When Herod is threatened by this new king, he acts…irrationally and viciously. He orders the murder of all the baby boys in Bethlehem who were two years and younger. Based on the size of Bethlehem some say this could have meant the death of 8-15 baby boys. By God’s direction, the Savior of the Nations is spared, sent off to Egypt until Herod dies.
When you put Luke’s account together with Matthew’s account, things initially seem a bit haphazard…like there’s a new unexpected twist at every turn. And yet, it becomes very clear that God is in control…God has a plan…and that plan will not be thwarted.
For instance, Mary is pledged to Joseph. And all of a sudden, an angel appears and tells young Mary, “You’re going to have a baby.” But even this is a fulfilment of a promise Isaiah made 700 years earlier.
The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
A seemingly insignificant decision and decree by Caesar Augustus. He decided to count and tax his people. So they all have to go back to their home town. Another surprising turn of events, now Mary and Joseph have to had to Bethlehem. The timing seems awful, because while there, away from home, she gives birth. But even this is a fulfilment of a promise made by Micah 700 years earlier.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah…out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:2
And now this. A paranoid king goes on a horrible killing spree. Mary and Joseph flee for their lives to Egypt. But even this is a fulfilment of words written over 700 years earlier.
Out of Egypt I called my son. Hosea 11:1
There is nothing haphazard about the birth of Christ. The Savior…your Savior was carefully planned…carefully delivered…was carefully protected…so your salvation could be carefully completed. And we needed it. Because inside all of us is a Little King Herod. Does that hurt our pride when I say that? Inside all of us is a Little King Herod. We want the world to orbit around us. We want to call the shots and we get a little threatened when Jesus comes along and he wants to be the King and he wants to dwell and rule in our hearts.
- Why is it so hard for us to focus on Jesus and love Jesus? Is it not because of our sinful, Herod-like heart?
- Why is it so hard for us to forgive and love the people around us…and make sacrifices for them?
- How often haven’t we said, “O Lord, forgive me for this sin and I promise I will never commit it again, ever”? And just a few days later, there we are again.
I don’t like being compared to Herod. Herod did some evil things…violent things. It makes us shudder. But our sins aren’t nice. Our sins aren’t more dignified. Our sins aren’t sweeter in God’s sight…our sins weren’t lighter for Jesus to carry. With Herod…and with every human being we belong in the “all have sinned” category…which is also the “all are doomed unless God intervenes and delivers us” category.
And that is exactly what our God did. He intervened and he delivered. All for you.
- The Savior Jesus was born of the virgin Mary…born in Bethlehem.
- The Savior Jesus fled Herod’s vicious attack…and was called out of Egypt.
- The Savior Jesus was called to the cross.
- The Savior Jesus was called to carry every sin…every little, big, gross, evil, awful sin.
- The Savior Jesus tasted death…was called out of the tomb…and now shares his victory, his crown, his heaven.
All for you. And now this Savior Jesus continues to cover you with his love in his baptism, in his holy supper, in his Word, in his arms. Amen.