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Rejoice in Your Suffering (St. Matthew 2.13-19)

Second Sunday after Christmas

“Rejoice in Your Suffering”
Seminarian Paul Norris, Vicar    

St. Matthew 2.13-19; 1 Peter 4.12-19; Genesis 47.1-7

02 January 2022

 

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Christmas season is the shortest season of the Church year. The readings of the Christmas season move us quickly from the joy of the birth of our blessed Savior to suffering and the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents by Herod’s hand. At the birth of Jesus, the Savior that mankind desperately needs, the world reveals its hatred for God and for his only begotten Son. But God protects Jesus’ life so that he can go to the cross for you.

The Magi who were searching for the newborn King were directed to Bethlehem by King Herod. Herod, wanting to eliminate this threat to his earthly throne, instructs the Magi to report back to him on the exact identity and location of the newborn king. But the Magi were warned by God in a dream not to report back to Herod. Furious, Herod issues orders to kill all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old or under. These children, the martyred Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, occupy a special place in Christian history. They are not martyrs in the typical sense as we view those who die confessing Christ. However, these Jewish children were circumcised and part of the covenant. The babies of Bethlehem would not have been slaughtered if our Savior had not been born among them. In that sense, they did die for the sake of Christ, and their deaths prefigure the martyrdom of those who boldly confessed and bore Christ’s name.

We may ask ourselves, “Why did Jesus have to flee and all the baby boys of Bethlehem be killed?” God could have intervened and protected Jesus with his angels, but Scripture gives us a clear answer. All that happened in Bethlehem and the Holy Family’s exile to Egypt was necessary to fulfill scripture. God used this terrible deed of wicked king Herod to preserve the life of our Savior. If Jesus had died when he was an infant, then God’s plan for salvation wouldn’t be accomplished. The time wasn’t right and Jesus’ time to die had not yet come. Nothing will prevent the divine plan or prevent it from achieving the goal of our salvation. Herod tries to stop it, but God cannot be stopped.

God allowed this evil deed, but he was not the cause of this evil. Herod’s sin of jealousy and pride was the cause. Even though God knew that this would happen, He isn’t the cause of sin. When we sin, we are responsible for our sins. However, God’s foreknowledge of this event provides order in the midst of evil and sets limits to it. God’s foreknowledge determines how long this evil can continue and determines that everything, even if it is evil in itself, serves the welfare of God’s elect. [FC Ep XI 4] By fleeing to Egypt, God is protecting his son. God preserved Jesus’ life during this murderous act so that he might die for us on the cross.

This reading is a good and fitting ending to the Christmas season. It shows us what is and must come for Jesus. Jesus must shed his blood or there’s no hope for us. Take note that the paraments for this day are white, and the Christ candle at the center of the Advent wreath is white. Our catechumens have been memorizing, or at least they should be working on it now, (there is an exam on Saturday!) the section “Justification By Grace, For Christ’s sake, Through Faith.” White is the color of purity and righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness. The righteousness of the sinless Christ child belongs to you! Jesus’ death on the cross happened at the exact time that God the Father willed it and planned it. He won for you the acquittal from your conviction and sentence of death. As a baptized child of Christ, you have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment. Then comes a voice from the Holy of Holies: “Tear down the indictment.” The guilty man is acquitted for Jesus’ sake from all guilt and punishment; he is justified, and without price, the righteousness of Christ is accounted his. This is The Great Exchange. You are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Only because of the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross are you declared not guilty.

The world’s hatred of God has not stopped. Just as Jesus fled from evil we too have to live in this hostile world. If Jesus was persecuted from the moment he came to earth, how much more will this world who hates God want to persecute us the children of God? It used to be in the United States that we viewed religious persecution as coming only to those outside our country. In the last decades, persecution of the church and God’s children is increasing. St. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) Persecution for the sake of the Gospel should not surprise us, we should expect it. Our world and even our country which used to champion religious freedom seek more and more to displace God from his people and control the Church for its own sinful purposes. We should not be surprised that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are being sued for not accepting things that are contrary to Scripture and the good creation of God. We should not be surprised that schools, even in our own synod are being threatened by states for the truth it teaches. Our world demonstrates nothing but hatred and contempt for God and it openly mocks you as weak-minded people who need the crutch of religion. They even despise the compassionate prayers of God’s people.

But we have something to rejoice about.  “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” ( I Peter 4:14) If you suffer for the sake of Christ, rejoice! You are blessed! This is an opportunity to proclaim Christ and the revealed glory of God in our Savior. It is difficult to understand, as we boast in our sufferings (Rom 5:3-5), how suffering is a good or blessed thing. We don’t always understand how God is moving or working in our lives. Bo Giertz a Swedish Lutheran theologian, novelist, and bishop of the Gothenburg Lutheran Diocese explained it this way in his book, ‘The Knights of Rhodes’, “God and the devil play chess. We are the pieces. But we are neither completely white nor black. In every heart there is a chessboard where God and the devil play. There are many pieces to keep them busy. And precisely for that reason, it is so hard for us to follow the game. Occasionally, God makes a move that we can’t understand. In order to check something only He sees coming. Or to get into a position only He can exploit. Up until the end, all the small pieces stand together trying to discern what is happening in the big scheme of things.”

Look at our Old Testament reading. God took the suffering of Joseph and Jacob and turned it to good. Joseph was sold into slavery, and his father Jacob thought he was dead. But God took this turmoil and suffering and used it to feed and preserve his people. The Lord had remained faithful in his plan of redemption. So it was then, so is it now and forever!

We will suffer joyfully knowing that God’s ways are not our ways and our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We don’t understand why things are happening the way they are, but God knows exactly what he is doing. We may be confused or demoralized, but we have so much to be thankful for. We rejoice in suffering because Jesus Christ won for us his righteousness by his suffering and death on the cross. We are not living for this world, but our blessed future is eternal glory in Christ Jesus! Rejoice in your suffering, for you are blessed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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