Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Holiness of Human Life?

Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 26th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
The Holiness of Human Life - 2nd Kings 5:1-19a, Matthew 8:1-13

     Sanctity means holiness.  When we sing the Sanctus, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Holy in Latin being Sanctus, hence the name of the song.  Sanctity means holiness. 

     The Christian Church in the United States of America has for some decades now observed Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on a Sunday close to the anniversary of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision of the Supreme Court, which legalized abortion throughout the entirety of pregnancy, for any reason.  In response, the Church celebrates the Sanctity, the Holiness of Human Life, which is holy, we declare, from conception to death, a gift from God, to be protected.  We add our voice to this celebratory proclamation once again this morning. 

     But, is human life really holy?  You might think differently.

     For example, what is holy about the life of a marauding warrior, a violent enemy, who attacks God’s people, killing and robbing and enslaving his captives?  If an armored strong man suddenly descended on your house and stole your child away from you, would you call him holy?  Sanctified?  Or would you hate him and consider him worthy of a painful death?  If you learned that such a violent enemy was plagued with leprosy, that his skin constantly broke out in ugly, painful sores that made him both miserable and disgusting to everyone around him, how would you react?  Wouldn’t you take grim satisfaction, thinking that he was, at least in part, getting what he deserves? 

     You and I might very well think such things.  But not God.  Now, it’s not that God isn’t angered by violence and murder and kidnapping and slavery.  The Lord after all is the one who said: Do not murder, do not steal, do not covet your neighbors wife, or family, or servants.  And yet, even though God hates sin and promises to avenge all sin, even still, God at the same time acts mercifully toward this violent enemy of God’s people, the Syrian general called Naaman.  God acts toward Naaman in mercy and love. God sanctifies, cleanses, heals and makes holy this very unholy man.   

     We are free to defend ourselves and our loved ones when violent people attack us.  And, we might understandably be tempted to reject forever those who act violently and evilly against us and our loved ones.  But not God.  Even from such as these, from wholly unholy people, that is, from completely unholy people, God chooses children for His kingdom.  God does not reject the Syrian general Naaman, and even works through an Israelite in order to reach out to him.  Through a little Israelite girl, who had been taken as a slave from her family, God chooses to begin His work of salvation in the life of Naaman.  Where you and I might well expect this little girl to hate her master, God moves her to speak the truth in love, to tell of the Prophet in Israel, whom she knows can help Naaman with his leprosy. 

     As you heard in our Old Testament reading, God works a very great miracle, sanctifying this violent enemy of His people.  God heals and converts Naaman, working through the muddy waters of the Jordan River and the seemingly offhand, and literally second hand words of the prophet Elisha, who doesn’t even go out and speak directly to the general.  Through a messenger Elisha makes a ridiculous promise, that if Naaman goes and washes seven times in the river, he will be healed, made whole, cleansed.  And, despite Naaman’s anger and unbelief, the washing of water and the word does its work.  Naaman is cleansed.  And much more importantly, Naaman is converted, now believing that the God of Israel, the God who spoke through Elisha, is the one, true God, who had healed him.

     And so we begin to learn that according to God’s calculations, human life is holy indeed, and most worthy of our celebration and protection, no matter how small the life, or how seemingly evil the life, or how incapacitated and painful the life.  God says human life is worthy of His loving care, and so also our loving care. 

     Jesus puts His seal on the conversion of Naaman in a number of places, including in the double healing we heard in today’s Gospel, Jesus cleansing a leper, and then turning around and healing the servant of a Roman Centurion, another foreign military officer serving a king that subjugated and mistreated God’s people.  Naaman showed his faith by his concern for not being considered guilty of worshiping the false god Rimmon.  The Centurion shows his faith by asking Jesus to merely say the word, for he know and believes the authority and power of Jesus’ Word.  Naaman’s worldly duties force him to enter the house of a false God with his earthly master, and he seeks the Lord’s pardon.  The Centurion knows his sins and his worldly duties make him unworthy for the Lord Jesus to enter his house, he simply seeks the Lord’s Word of promise and power.  In each case, faith has been created, by the Word of God. 

     From the power of God’s Word we also begin to learn the how and why of the Sanctity of Human life.  Human life is not holy, not sanctified, because of what you and I or any other mere human being does.  No, we are all sinners.  Perhaps our outward sins don’t seem so dastardly as those of Naaman.  But God sees the outside and the inside, and is concerned that all our thoughts, words and deeds be holy.  And they are not.  So we cannot claim to generate our own holiness.  But God by the power of His Word can bestow holiness.  The “how” of human holiness is based in the fact that Jesus has suffered God’s vengeance, the complete just punishment for all our sins.  The debt is paid.  Our debt for sin, and the power this gives satan over us is gone, forever, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man.  The “how” of human holiness is God through His Word declaring the Good News that all sin is gone, and His Holiness is shared with humanity, in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ.  The “how” of human holiness is God declaring holy and righteous everyone who trusts in His Holy Son, crucified and resurrected for the sins of the whole world.    

     The “why” of human holiness is simple.  Why are humans holy and precious and worthy of protection?  Because God desires to have a holy people, to live with Him in joy and glory forever.  God desires a holy people, and He will not be denied.  God loves and has loved the people whom He created, even though we daily turn away and fall short of His standard.  God has done and continues to do all that is required to make us holy, recreating us holy, in His Son. 

      We are right now, today, holy, holy by faith in Jesus, and we have the privilege of seeking to grow in holiness during our lives, looking forward to that day, in the life to come, when we will be free from sin forever.  And so the Church lives from the forgiving Word of Jesus, which makes us holy and keeps us holy and prepares us for an eternity of holiness. 

     By your Baptism into Christ, you are justified and sanctified.  You are made holy.  By the power of God’s forgiving Word, you are sanctified, declared holy in the eyes of God, who looks at you and sees the holiness of Christ. 

     Your life is holy, and precious to God.  But you may think differently.  You may not feel like you are holy.  Your sins shame you and make you doubt that the holy promises of God could be true.  The devil points at your sins and sneers in your ear, “You aren’t holy, God would never accept you.”  The world switches back and forth between denying holiness matters on one hand, and then turning around and denying that you could ever be holy.  Your life in this sin soaked world may make you doubt the possibility of your holiness, and so make you doubt the value of your life. 

     But God says differently.  God says that you are holy, by your connection to His Son.  And so you are, period.  Do not let anyone ever tell you your life is not valuable.  Do not ever tell yourself that you are not worthy of God’s love, or anyone else’s.  Because Jesus Christ has made your holiness and worthiness a reality. 

     So rejoice in the holiness that God has declared over you.  Rejoice, and remember, that since Jesus came to wash away the sins of the whole world, it is correct to say that all human life, no matter how small, no matter how evil, no matter how weak or disabled, is holy in God’s sight, and not to be wantonly destroyed.  God does provide for the restraint of evil.  God does empower armies and governments to fight evil, and even to kill wicked people.  But the Church, in her proclamation and in her action, always seeks to serve and protect life, because of all that Jesus has done to serve and protect our lives. 

    The Bible says you must be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.  The Bible also declares that in and through Jesus Christ, you are already holy, sanctified, precious to God and beloved.  Rejoice, Saints of God, and let your voices praise the Holy One, our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Proposal for Using Our Gifts

Second Sunday after Epiphany  -  Mission Sunday 
January 19th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
A Proposal for Using Our Gifts – Romans 12:6 and John 2

     Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.  This morning, on our last Mission Sunday for 2013, the lectionary has provided us with an amazingly appropriate verse, as we once again focus our attention on the Mission of God through His Church.  My lack of administrative skills is the primary cause of the late date of this Mission Sunday, but the Lord in His overabundant mercy and provision has overcome this weakness, bringing about the happy coincidence of this occasion  and this verse:  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. 

     As we focus on the Mission of God’s Church and our roles within it, could we have a more appropriate passage?  We have been blessed with many gifts.  The economic boom has gifted many of us with good jobs and better salaries, for some of us, more financial resources than we ever imagined we would have.  The Lord has also gifted us with new members, who have come here for the work.  The cheerfulness that results from the good news of Jesus Christ has caused great generosity among you, the people of God in this place, resulting in budget surpluses for both our congregations.  And God has long enabled us to see the white of the harvest fields, leading us to make a regular habit of looking for opportunities to care for neighbors near and far through service to body and soul, with material support and with the proclamation of Christ.  God has through His Word and Sacrament been guiding us to take from the many gifts He has blessed us with, giving to support the growth of His Church.  Like the wise steward, we understand our gifts are given to us to use, not just for ourselves, but also for the earthly and eternal benefit of our neighbors. 

     This morning St. John is specifically supporting a ministry that has nearby roots, but whose reach of service is global, the Orphan Grain Train, a human care and Gospel mission endeavor that helps thousands of people suffering from disasters, around our country and around the world, every year.  Orphan Grain Train works also to deliver material goods, and the Word of Christ, coordinating with and supporting local missionaries in the areas they send aid. 

     At Trinity, the focus is closer to home this morning.  With this Mission Sunday Trinity is supporting a fund to pay for Gospel outreach right here in our own communities, a Bakken Mission Fund, to help spread the Good News of Jesus to our increasingly numerous neighbors and friends, right here, in the oil patch.  At both congregations, we have a clear focus on using our gifts, in support of the Gospel, in service to our neighbors, to the glory of God.

     And, as I have been promising for some time in the newsletter, this morning I have the distinct privilege of delivering to you a proposal that the leaders of our congregations have been considering for some months now.  For we have received a very particular gift, a gift that we, Lord willing, can put to good use to directly increase our outreach and evangelistic efforts right here in our communities. 

     What gift am I talking about?  Well, the best gifts are always flesh and blood gifts,  The best gifts are people.  The very Best gift is of course our flesh and blood Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we have forgiveness, life and salvation.  And about 18 months ago, our congregations received the gift of two souls, two sinners, living from the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  This man, along with his wife, have a remarkable wealth of experience in mission work.  If you have gotten to know him, you know that this man has a great deal of energy, even after 40+ years of service, energy and desire and skills to continue telling people about the flesh and blood Savior, Jesus Christ. 

     The gift we have received is Reverend Doctor Mark Nicolaus, along with his wife Jane, who moved to Sidney in the summer of 2012.  They have already been used by God to bless our congregations and communities.  Jane is teaching Sunday School, playing bells, serving in Altar Care, and working part time at West Side School in Sidney.  Rev. Nicolaus has led services and preached when I have been gone, taught Catechism classes and Adult Sunday School, and added his voice to our singing.  He also shares excitement in the Gospel with everyone around him.  Of course, at the present time Reverend Nicolaus is Pastor again, serving the vacancy at Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston.   

     Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.  The Lord uses each of His children in many different ways.  We all have a role to play in God’s ongoing mission, but not the same role, and not the same gifts to use.  God in His grace has given Mark Nicolaus a double portion of missionary zeal, tremendous boldness and comfort in speaking of the Lord and His Church, as well as 4 decades of experience in Word and Sacrament ministry.  This morning, the leaders of our congregations and I are proposing that you use the gracious gift God has given us by bringing Reverend Nicolaus to us.  We are asking you to consider calling Reverend Nicolaus as Assistant Pastor for Outreach of Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, to begin serving sometime after he completes his vacancy pastor work at Concordia, Williston. 

     The proposal is for him to serve part time, with at least 80% of his hours dedicated specifically to taking God’s Law and Gospel to the people of our communities.  His focus, should you choose to call him and should he accept the call, will be to increase our Christian outreach to our neighbors, both long time and brand new neighbors, to anyone who is not currently connected to a Christian congregation where the truth of God’s mercy and grace are proclaimed and delivered.  That is to say, he would particularly focus on finding ways to bring the Good News of God’s blood-bought free salvation to sinners who are not yet resting in the peace of our Savior’s resurrection victory.  

     There are a number of factors and resources which make calling Reverend Nicolaus a particularly valuable opportunity, chief among these being his long experience in Church planting and outreach.  After the service you will receive a document containing the particulars of the proposal, including the financial costs.  We will take our time considering this idea, giving everyone a chance to ask questions, understand the details, pray over and consider this proposal.  This proposal to call Rev. Nicolaus as Assistant Pastor for Outreach will, just like when you have called pastors in the past, require the approval of both Trinity and St. John.  It is a serious and holy undertaking that you are asked to consider. 

     We will have meetings and opportunities for everyone to be heard.  We will not be making a decision concerning this proposal until at least March.  I truly look forward to the mission focused conversation that God has placed before us. 

     In that conversation, God grant us the faith to pray like Mary, asking her Son Jesus to help out with the wine problem at the wedding at Cana.  For Mary didn’t know what solution Jesus would offer to her prayer.  She saw a need, knew the gift that was her Son Jesus, and boldly asked Him to do whatever He thought best.  Jesus response was multifaceted, like a diamond, and brought both present and eternal joy to many.  Jesus showed His concern for our earthly life, blessing the un-named bridal couple with the very best wine, making their special day better than they could have imagined.  At the same time, Jesus revealed who He is, what He can do, and how He wants to bless people.  And, seeing the work of Jesus, His disciples believed in Him, the most valuable gift of all, for faith in Jesus brings forgiveness, and eternal life, a joyous forever feasting at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb who has been slain, for the life of the whole world. 

     I do not claim to know the best way forward in mission for our congregations.  My request of our leaders when I brought this idea to them was simply that we consider it prayerfully and seriously.  This is also our request to you.  We all see a thirsty, growing community, full of so many people who do not even know what they are truly thirsty for, so many people who don’t know how Jesus comes to freely distribute the sweet wine of salvation, the drink of forgiveness that they truly need.  Perhaps as we discuss, study, pray and wrestle with this proposal, a different way forward will be revealed to us.  I don’t know the best way forward, but I do know that Jesus desires to speak through us to every person in our communities.  Let us pray to the Lord of the Harvest to show us just how we can best proclaim His Son to the mission fields all around us. 

     As we deliberate over this proposal, may the Lord grant us to know and take the right first step in our deliberations.   We are, in considering this proposal, trying to pursue the way of a greater harvest.  We are praying and working toward seeing more fruit of the Gospel.  And we know from Jesus that in order to bear fruit, we need to stay connected to the Vine, that is, we need to stay connected to Him, to His Word, to His Meal, to be fed by the One who came to be the Savior of all.  So as we move forward in the weeks ahead, stay close to Jesus, by gathering around His table, feasting on the Bread of Life, drinking forgiveness in His precious blood.  Stay close to Jesus by abiding in His Word, on Sunday, and each day in between.  For the Lord knows the plans He has for us, plans to bless us, and to bless the world around us, with eternal blessings from His Word, proclaimed through us. 

Thanks be to God for His gracious gifts.  God grant us to know them, rejoice in them, and put them to use, in the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Remember Your Name

The Baptism of Our + Lord – January 12th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Remember Your Name - Matthew 3:13-17

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
     Why did God the Father say that?  Do you suppose Jesus needed help, remembering His Name?  Or should I say Names?  Jesus, tiny little Jesus, laying in a manger, already had a whole slew of names:  Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Holy One, Son of God.  Many more would come: the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Light of the World, the Bread of Heaven, the Son of Man, the Nazarene, the Teacher, the Prophet, Son of David, Lord, and King, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  God the Father’s declares from the cloud, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."  Was that for Jesus’ benefit?  Was the Father reminding Jesus who He is, originally and eternally, namely the Son of God, as in the second person of the Holy Trinity, God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? 

     I tend to say no.  Jesus is God, He doesn’t need to be reminded of anything.  Although there is this to consider: apparently God the Father spoke twice, or said one sentence in some divine way that doubles its impact.   You see, in telling the same story, Mark and Luke report the Father saying, “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”  Matthew reports as though the Father was speaking to John the Baptist, or to the crowds, saying look, this one, He is my Son.  Luke and Mark report God speaking directly to Jesus, “You are my Son,” as if to encourage and strengthen Jesus with these profound words, just as He is about to enter into temptation, and into the ultimate struggle with sin, death and the devil. 

     It’s always tricky to try to talk about the person of the man Jesus, distinct from His person as the Son of God, but maybe, in regards to His human nature, Mark and Luke are speaking of the strengthening that Jesus did need, and which He received at various times, as angels ministered to Him after the Temptation, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and how various women ministered to His needs, throughout His earthly ministry.  The Almighty, needing help?  That makes no sense.  And yet, certainly in the life of Jesus we see the Almighty accepting help.  A very deep mystery. 

     We won’t nail down exactly whether Jesus needed help remembering His Name here this morning, but certainly you and I do.  Now, I’m not referring to you forgetting that you are Mabel or Mitchell or Matthew, but rather I refer to you and I forgetting, sometimes on purpose, the Names that we have been given, and the implications of those Names, the Names that come from our to Jesus, the Son of God. 

     For instance, when needy people, financially needy, or emotionally needy, or spiritually needy people, make unreasonable demands on us, we are tempted to forget that we have been called ‘Christian.’  The word meanings are wandering away from each other these days, but Baptism and Christening historically refer to the same event in the life of a Christian, the wet and wordy public entry into the Church of Christ, that public declaration by God through His minister, splashing a bit of water over you in obedience to Christ’s command.  You are Baptized, you have been Christened, that is, Christ has put His Name on you, and so you are properly called a Christian, which means “little Christ.” 

     And yet, when we “little Christs” are called upon to live out our Name, even just a bit, for the sake of some needy person who has come into our lives, how often do we try to find an excuse to put them off, a rule to judge them by, anything but respond in a way similar to how Christ responded to our needs?  We don’t like to do our name, ‘Christian,’ because we know the Christ poured Himself out in order to meet the greatest needs of the most needy people ever, condemned sinners, holding nothing back, giving His all to the ultimate.  We don’t much want to do the same, do we?  We don’t much want to pour ourselves out for the needy, do we?  How often do you and I avoid giving even a little to some needy person, thereby forgetting or denying the name Christian?

     There’s another Name we could talk about, maybe not exactly ever used as a name in Scripture, but so clearly and so often applied to us that certainly we could understand it like a name.  For we are the ‘Forgiven.’  The Forgiving One, God Almighty, for the sake of the only begotten, crucified and resurrected Son, forgives us, and forgets.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Period.  No strings attached.  Washed clean again, this time without any water at all.  Free forgiveness, that is what God is pushing.  And so, we are rightly to be called the ‘Forgiven.’  Amen. 

     Except…  I almost hate to bring it up, but it’s true.  We are rightly called the ‘Forgiven,’ but when God puts an opportunity before us to live out this Name, when we have a chance to forgive someone,…  oh, well, now, shouldn’t we be careful and make sure the other person is really reformed, make sure that it won’t happen again, before we forgive?  It won’t do any good for us to be a doormat, now, would it?  We should just kinda-sorta reconcile…ish, all the while cataloging the offense and reserving our anger, just in case they do something again, so then we can really let them have it.  

     You know you do it.  You know I do it.   And I know I do it.  To actually forgive someone is to give away your power over them.  As long as I can nurse the offense and hold it over some one, I can use it to try to control them.  But to forgive is to empty yourself, to expose yourself to a sinner, without any guarantee that they will receive your forgiveness, without any guarantee that they will receive your love, without any guarantee that they will love you back. 

     Remember your Name, baptized Christian, child of God, forgiven one.  Remember your Name, because you got it from Jesus, who has already done all those forgiving things that you and I are afraid to do.  Jesus, out of love for His Father and love for you, gave up all His power, and He had all of it, He is Almighty God.  Jesus gave up the power and prerogative of being the Lord God Almighty.  Jesus came to a people, a whole world full of people who did not want to reconcile with God, and He reconciled them anyway, reconciling the whole world to His Father, in His own Body, freely taking on all our sins, freely emptying Himself, exposing Himself to the hatred of sinners, without any guarantee that you and I would receive His love, without any guarantee that we would love Him back. 

     And yet, He is the Creator and Redeemer.  He is the maker of new hearts.  And so, even though many, far too many people, reject God’s Son, He did know that others would be turned.  Even as He predicted Peter’s three-time denial, Jesus knew He would get Peter back.  Jesus predicted Peter’s denials, but then also says to Peter, “once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."  All those written in His Book of Life will be re-born, made new, counted righteous, worthy of eternal life.  For the joy of sitting at the center of that congregation of redeemed and holy people, Jesus poured out His blood, to forgive the sins of the whole world, including yours, and mine. 

     Remember your Name.  Jesus Christ is the Righteous One, that is, the One without fault, the One totally good, totally loving, totally right with God the Father.  Jesus is the Righteous One, and the One who fulfills all righteousness, for you and me.  This is what He began to do at His Baptism, identifying with sinners, entering the water as if He had something to repent for, being baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness, for us sinners.  Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by facing, and rejecting, the temptations that Adam and Eve and all their children give into.  Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by loving His neighbors as Himself, always, every time putting God and neighbor before Himself, fulfilling the Law’s requirement for love, fulfilling the law, in the place of the whole world.  And of course, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by accepting the full punishment that all the sins of every person of all time require.  No one is outside the Atonement of Christ, the blood of Jesus covers all sin, and so He sends His Church to declare repentance and forgiveness, to all  people.  And so, you are rightly called Righteous, in Christ Jesus, your Savior.    

     Baptized into Christ, called, Righteous, a Holy one, Forgiven and Restored, these are all Names God the Father speaks onto you, gives to you, blesses you with.  And one more:  Beloved.  You have been loved, by Jesus.  In His death and in His resurrection, you have been loved.  And so, you are the beloved of the Lord.  You are well pleasing to the Lord, in and through His Son.  Remember, and go forth in that Name, Amen.   

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why Would Anyone Be Scared of a Baby?

2nd Sunday after Christmas, with Epiphany, January 5th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Why Would Anyone Be Scared of a Baby?     Matthew 2:1-23

     Why would anyone be scared of a baby?  Our extended Gospel reading from St. Matthew details two very different reactions to the baby Jesus.  In a display of faith and devotion that is, I think, hard for us to imagine, the Magi travel hundreds of dangerous miles by camel, to worship the Son of Mary, bringing prophetic gifts of gold for this helpless king, and frankincense for this infant priest, and myrrh for this tiny prophet, who would give His life for the life of the world, His once swaddled body hurriedly wrapped in myrrh and aloes, to get Him into the tomb, before the sundown. 

     But Herod, why this senseless fear?  We are speaking of King Herod the Great, not his borderline buffoon son who governed Judea three decades later, when Jesus was betrayed by Judas.  We are speaking of the great and ruthless king who ruled almost all the Holy Land, albeit under the authority of the Roman Emperor.  King Herod the Great reacted very differently than the Magi to the news of a newborn king.  Hearing of the Magi’s faith and the journey they were inspired to take in order to worship Jesus, Herod displays actual fear of the Son of Mary.  Wicked fear, and incredible hatred, a combination of fallen emotions that, when he discovers the Magi have tricked him and failed to deliver the Child into his clutches, leads Herod to order the senseless slaughter of every boy child under two years of age in Bethlehem.  Why would anyone be scared of a baby?  Why would anyone as powerful as Herod fear the infant child of Mary, a peasant girl of a subjugated people, a native of a backwater part of a backwater country? 

     Why such fear?  Well, Herod the Great was no true Israelite, but he knew the Jews well enough, knew of their remarkable devotion to the Torah, their Scripture, their Holy Book that we now call the Old Testament.  Herod was not an Old Testament scholar, but neither was he ignorant, and you don’t need to know much about the Old Testament to realize that the God confessed within those scrolls was a God who promised to destroy all earthly power, and seat His Messiah, His Christ, His anointed Savior, on the throne of David, to rule not only over Israel, but ultimately to rule over heaven and earth, forever.  And, through experience, Herod no doubt knew something of the quiet, dauntless power of faith, the way that true Israelites, who trusted in the Lord of Scripture, always seemed to find a way to endure, to survive, to keep the faith, leaving many powerful rulers in their wake through the centuries.  Herod, who today would likely be diagnosed as a megalomaniac, knew that the faith of the Jews was not to be dismissed lightly, if he wanted to retain his power and position. 

    Why would anyone be scared of a baby?  By this point in his ugly career, Herod had learned well the way of the world, the way of holding power in a creation shot through and through with sin and hatred.  Intimidate, overpower, kill, destroy, these were the imperatives of worldly power, and few followed them better than Herod the Great.  So, if this child in Bethlehem could inspire hope and worship in foreign wise men, then the safest route for Herod is simply to destroy Him.  If some innocent children in Bethlehem suffer along with the Christ Child, so what? 
     Why would anyone be scared of a baby?  One of the most striking things about the Christmas story is how the idyllic and beautiful is so close alongside the brutal and frightening.  The faith of Mary, the self-sacrifice of Joseph, the glory of the angels, the devotion of the shepherds, and of the Magi, these are the wonderful notes that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year.  But these cannot be extracted from the poverty into which the Son of God willingly inserts Himself, nor from the prophecy of dark and frightening days ahead, when a sword would pierce Mary’s soul, when this Child would be caught up in the eternal drama of good and evil, causing the fall and rising of many.  But still, if we allow ourselves to really enter into the story, at the heart of it, there is a tiny newborn baby.  And why would anyone be scared of a baby?

     Are you kidding?  Have you had a baby?  One minute, you are sharing the joy of being husband and wife, and the next, you are responsible for an impossibly precious nine pound bundle of responsibility and madness.  We all love having babies in Church, but when it’s your baby, in your home, dominating your life, well, let’s be honest, that’s scary.  Wonderful, yes, fulfilling, yes, something we’d never give up, yes, but also exhausting and frustrating and fearful.  Becoming parents is to be drawn into God’s work.  It is to be a participant in the creation and nurture of a new human being.  Fearful.  Joyful.  Awesome.  Scary.

     Why would anyone be scared of a baby?  Well, do you remember that newborns turn into teenagers?  But that’s not really fair, because long before your teenager makes you crazy with their hair or their music or their rebellion, they become a two year old.  The miracle of birth makes you fall in love with your baby, who with just her baby’s breath and so soft skin steals your heart away, long before they ever smile and coo. 

     But then, your baby promptly turns on you.  “No.”  That sweet little baby all too soon learns to say “No,” accompanied by screams and tantrums.  None of us are the perfect parent, but at the same time, the sin that corrupts us all shows up far earlier in life than any devoted parent expects.    

     Both the awesome, creating-along-with-God reality of having a baby, and the real difficulty of raising a child are enough to cause us to fear.  And yet for most parents, despite the work and worry, still the greatest joy, the most important accomplishment, the focus of our old age memories is having and raising children. 

     While few of us may ever display the faithfulness of the Magi, and I cannot imagine anyone among us displaying the heartlessness and ruthlessness of Herod, still, there is a connection between our love and fear of babies, and their disparate reactions to the Christ child.  The paradox between the difficulty and the joy of raising children turns on the same truth as does the vastly different reactions of Herod and the Wise Men to Baby Jesus.  Our natural, can’t-help-ourselves love toward our children is an imperfect reflection of the reality that God created Man and Woman to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and it was very good.  And now Jesus, God entered into human flesh, is the divine declaration that what God originally made very good is, in God’s estimation, worth redeeming, regardless of the cost.  By the power of God’s Word, perhaps carried to the home of the wise men by Daniel and the three young men, but carried to them somehow, to be sure, these Magi, these Wise Men from the East believed that a child was born in Israel who would once again make God’s people very good. 
     Herod the Great, a wicked power broker who thought nothing of killing family members, even his own children, in order to protect his position and power, is quite nearly the epitome of evil, a demonic character in world history, right up there with Stalin and Hitler and Osama bin Laden.  It is to those like Herod, who deny God, who despise the very idea of an Almighty God greater and more powerful than they, it is to such people that the Old Testament Scriptures give warning of the coming destruction that the Savior of the Lord will inflict on all His enemies.  Herod did indeed have reason to fear Jesus, for Jesus came to destroy all the strongholds of evil. 

     Which brings you and me to a difficult point.  For while we are not spectacularly evil like Herod, we are sinners.  We are selfish,  We were all once two year olds, trying to monopolize our mother for ourselves.  We all were teenagers, secretly or not so secretly despising our parents, even as we mooched off them for all they were worth.  We are not megalomaniacs, but we are poor, miserable sinners, even still, all too ready to give in to the temptation to put ourselves first, and our family, friends, neighbors and God last.  Why would anyone be scared of a baby?  Well, because we are sinners, and this Child is the Lord Almighty, who hates sin. 

     And yet, this Baby draws us in.  He steals our hearts away.  It is the close proximity of joy and suffering, of wonder and humiliation, that ultimately draws people to the Baby Jesus in a way that has eternal significance.  For it is in the fulfillment of His calling that we discover how the fear of this baby is Godly and right.  For, even though He came to destroy the power of evil, this Baby also came to create the way of salvation for every sinner, no matter how great.  If we insist on our independence, and cling to our self-serving ways, if we deny that we need a Savior, then this Child rightly strikes fear into our hearts, eternal and damning fear. 

     But for all who hear the Word of Christ and confess our guilt, to such repenting sinners comes the very, very Good News that this Child came to take our all our guilt upon Himself.  To repenting sinners God the Holy Spirit grants the blessing of Godly fear, the fear that leads to salvation, the fear that mingles with joy at knowing this Child has fulfilled the will of God by suffering for all our sins, the fear that marvels how God gladly delivers His forgiveness to all who believe that Jesus’ broken body and poured out blood is given to us, for our salvation. 

     Indeed, this Baby does more than steal our hearts away – He creates new, believing hearts in us, hearts that love God and neighbor, hearts that rejoice with the Magi to worship the Newborn King, who is Jesus, born for us, Amen.