Just Another Day
A favorite commercial of mine while in New Orleans was the one the city ran a week before Mardi Gras. There was no voice. Just the words "Tuesday in Boston, or New York, or Los Angels" and a picture of a quiet city. Then it was "Tuesday in New Orleans" showing and sounding the pandemonium that is Mardi Gras. We have transferred the ancient festival commemorating the slaughter of the Bethlehem Babes from December 28 to Life Sunday. So while in most churches it's just another day, not here.
So just another day where? Well it's not "just another day in paradise" as the song goes. We're remembering not just the slaughter of 20-30 babies in Bethlehem but now over a billion slaughtered in the womb around the world including right here in the freest country in the world. The number of physical abortions is dropping but the ones done by pills are going up (http://www.nrlc.org/uploads/factsheets/FS01AbortionintheUS.pdf.)
These babies are being sacrificed for the same reason babies always have been: to appease the gods. Some girl babies are sacrificed to appease the gender god. Unhealthy babies are sacrificed to the god of health. Other babies are sacrificed to the gods of prosperity or convenience. Or as with Herod in the text they are sacrificed to the god of self.
No, it's not just another day in paradise here, but it's also not just another day, either. While you can't bind the conscience of a pastor or congregation to have Life Sunday, you may ask why is abortion mentioned only amidst a list of sins? They will defend, "Because it is just another sin." No, along with homosexuality and gay marriage in particular, it is a sin that strikes at the very foundation of life, family, and state. And along with the other two it is the only sin defended by the church and legalized by the state. Did you see in the Gospel today the cooperation between the official church and the state against the Christ-Child? Think that was an anomaly? Think Hitler's Germany. Think slavery. Think today.
No it's not just another day in paradise here. Here it's just another day in a paradox. This festival has always struck the Church as strange. She has struggled with God the Son worshipped as Most High God by the Magi in one scene and running for His life in the next. She has struggled with God the Son being delivered from the slaughter while babes of Bethlehem are not. This issue the apparent impotence of God to stop the abortion holocaust has been the American Church's struggle since 1973.
Well, at least the events in Bethlehem were predicted 600 years before. God told His Church this was going to happen. They weren't to conclude that God was out of control when it did. God told them He was going to call His Son out of Egypt and that other children of God were going to die. Well, we were warned 2000 years ahead of our slaughter. Jesus told us of a time when fathers would deliver up their children to death. And make no mistake; men are ultimately behind this holocaust. The crucial role of particularly fathers in the end times is highlighted by the description of the ministry of the prophet who would introduce them. He will "restore the hearts of the fathers to their children" was said of John the Baptist.
That has happened among God's people who speak out against the slaughter of the innocents. The paradox today is that there are people and churches claiming to be Christian who not only don't speak out against killing the unborn or for that matter euthanizing the sick and elderly but defend these evils. What Matthew prophesied would happen is not happening among them. There's not weeping and great mourning from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist church, or the Episcopalian church. JFK said that "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality" (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/01/14/hottest/#note-10413-9). Think now is a time of "great moral crisis?"
Neither are the above refusing comfort. They're comforted that another unwanted baby wasn't born; they're comforted that a terminally ill born or unborn person isn't suffering anymore. Some in their midst are comforted that the feminist pinnacle has been reached. A woman now has complete reproductive control over her body. Why she is as free as faithless, selfish men have always been in regard to life in the womb!
There's another paradox in the text today. Compare what Jeremiah by the Spirit said predicting the Slaughter of the Innocents and how the Spirit guided Matthew to use it. As always, whenever you're within sight or sense of a divine paradox, you can be sure the Gospel can't be far behind. So while this Sunday is not just another day in paradise but another day in a paradox, it's also another day in a promise.
For those in Christ, everyday is a day of promise, not just birthdays but even death days. God the Son came into the world by way of the womb of the Virgin Mary. He descended into the very beginnings of human life as True God to redeem life even there. He could've come into the world as a 3 year old, 13 year old, 30 year old, or 63 year old and redeemed life from that point on. But sinful fallen life begins in the womb so that's where God the Son went to take on flesh and blood.
His flight to Egypt isn't cowardice it's redemptive. He's retracing the path of the Old Testament Church who went to Egypt to suffer for centuries. They suffered because they were sinners who couldn't keep away from the false faith of the Canaanite religions. Jesus was guilty of no idolatry, so He didn't go to Egypt as a sinner but as the Holy Son of God. Yet He suffered as one guilty of sin. He fled in the night to a strange land, and at no more than two years-old he already had no place to lay His head unlike even animals do.
Humanly speaking what would have happened if Jesus had stayed in Egypt? No ministry, no betrayal, no Gethsemane, no cross, no redemption. But God called Him out of Egypt to pick up His cross, deny Himself, and die. The Old Testament Church was called out of Egypt to be blessed in a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus was called out to be cursed for cursed by God is one who hangs on a tree.
God is keeping His promise first made in Paradise to send more than a Man through the Seed of the woman to crush the head of the Devil. Today is a day we remember, celebrate, give thanks, and wallow in that promise. God promises today that sins against life shall not stand. And first we look at this according to the Law. No one in the Bible - not an individual, not a family, not a nation - gets away with shedding innocent blood. God held Cain to account for Abel's. God held Saul's family accountable for the blood of the Gibeonites, and God vomited out of the land the Canaanites and the Israelites for the innocent blood they shed there. No one who has countenanced the sin of abortion, accepted it, defended it will be spared. All will be brought to Divine Justice. This too is a promise.
But the judging of those impenitent concerning their sins against life isn't the only promise. God promises that sins against life shall not stand in another sense. Jesus led a holy life to fulfill every Law God ever gave. In Jesus God doesn't see one Law as broken. No wrath boils up before His eyes because in Jesus all He sees is perfection. So God promises that Jesus has fulfilled every Law that commands life is to be held sacred, desired, protected, and received with thanksgiving. So all of the countless times I failed to do this or you failed to has been done in Jesus.
What about all the innocent blood that has been shed? Why do you think Scripture makes a point out of saying that Jesus' blood was shed? "Shed" implies copious amounts. Crucifixion itself was designed so people didn't die of blood loss. Enough of Jesus' blood was shed in truth one drop of the blood of God would be more than enough to appease, to satisfy God's wrath against all sins against blood. In fact so much of the holy, precious blood of Jesus was shed that it flooded the world to such a depth that not one sin is able to poke through to be seen by God. That's a promise.
But it can be hard to hear this promise if we just end with Matthew. As I said, his end is paradoxical to Jeremiah's. Matthew's last words are, "Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more." That's not how I want you leaving here: weeping and refusing to be comforted for the millions of unborn killed in America. Matthew ends here because he's preparing us for the first public appearance of Christ as redeemer and drier of tears. He's preaching law so that we may hear the Gospel. Yes, the Law says apart from Jesus there' no comfort and nothing but tears. And that's where people who accept or defend, abortion, or any other sin against sacred human life are left.
But that's not you! And that's not where Jeremiah leaves it. Matthew pulls out the only sad verse in all of Jeremiah 31 to preach law. The rest of chapter 31 is full of hope and promise. In Christ, you can leave this Divine Service in hope and promise. "This is what the Lord says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears.There is hope for your futureYour children will return to their own land."
Ramah was the city from where the Old Testament Church went into exile for their sins. Matthew takes you back to that city to see the long lines going off to pagan Babylon. Matthew leaves you with no hope because He hasn't brought you to the revelation of Jesus as the sin bearer who pleases the Father. Jeremiah brings you to Ramah but doesn't leave you there. He takes you to the Lord's Words that you are not to lose hope.
The Holy Christian Church is not losing the war against the unborn or unbelief even though to all appearances it seems we are. On Good Friday it appeared that Christ had certainly lost. Like our Savior His Church has a way of rising even after being buried. "Easter means you can put Truth in the grave but it won't stay there" (Clarence W. Hall). That's a promise; it is a paradox, and that makes this not just another day but one day closer to Paradise. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Holy Innocents, Martyrs (20160117); Jeremiah 31: 15-17