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Rev. Michael Larson

Today we continue to celebrate the feast of Christmas. That God comes to earth swaddled in flesh and blood all to make known the Father’s kind and tenderly heart to all of us.

So looking back, how was your Christmas this year? Did it live up to all the expectations you set for yourself, the nostalgia, and the hype? Was it everything you hoped it could be? You know, did you get the warm fuzzies that the Hallmark channel tells you you ought to have? Probably not. And don’t worry, because you’re not alone here.

It’s interesting that the church in her wisdom, even long before the Hallmark channel, wanted us to keep our Christmases all in perspective. For example, the day after Christmas, on December 26, we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The church points us to this truth: that Christ came to His own, and His own people received Him not.

So while we’re dwelling on shepherds and mangers, angels and a newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes, the church reminds us of Stephen, the first martyr, stoned to death for preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

A couple days later, just a few days after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. And this time the church draws our attention to murderous King Herod and his henchmen. Their blades dripping with blood. Soldiers marching through the streets of Bethlehem, grabbing the baby boys from the arms of their mothers. All after the infant King Jesus – our Savior.

So did you hear our Gospel this morning? It’s the Christmas story. But it’s not all warm fuzzies. Not by a long shot. Because Herod’s soldiers are on the move. So an angel comes to Joseph in a dream, and tells him to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. Unlike the first Joseph, he’s not dreaming about sheaves of wheat, but this time he’s given the charge to guard and protect the very bread of life.

So Joseph arose and took that tiny King, our infant Savior, and His mother by night and they began their journey down to Egypt.

This is the Christmas story, folks! Again, the church in her wisdom, this Christmas, wants us to remember the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Wants us to remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, as well as that dangerous journey of the holy family down to Egypt.

It’s a bit of a shock to our contemporary sensitivities to come to grips with the reality that it wasn’t a white Christmas as such – but also red with the blood of the saints and martyrs. There was trouble, there was violence and turmoil that very first Christmas. And perhaps in some way you can relate.  

There is comfort here for us. These events remind us that Christ our Lord came into the world in which we actually live. The real world. A world fallen and broken. Sinful through and through with real sinners that need saving.

In a sense, not much has changed in this world of ours. Babies are still unfairly stolen from their mothers’ wombs. Planned Parenthood will still be open for business tomorrow morning. Herod’s henchmen still roam around – though this time even calling themselves doctors or nurses. Children are still kidnapped or abused. Husbands and wives still fight and children still rebel and forsake God’s Word. And then we have the devil at our back, harassing us, and our own sinful flesh to contend with.

King Herod went after Christ; he was jealous. He was filled with pride and fear. Herod couldn’t bear the thought of anyone but him reigning as King. And there’s an uncomfortable truth here none of us really wants to admit. The thing is, there’s a little Herod in each and every one of us. A jealous and prideful King, who wants no one else to rule but ourselves. We lash out when others don’t bend to our will. Deep down, because of our sin and rebellion we feel threatened by this infant King, who comes to change us completely from inside out. And we don’t want to change – we like the status quo. We should humble ourselves. We should come down off our thrones, worship Him and serve Him as His loyal servants – but we foolishly prefer our own hellish kingdom to His heavenly kingdom.

But Christ won’t have it. He comes to save. To humble and exalt. To bring down and raise up. To call us all to repentance, faith, and holy life. And this is exactly what He does.

Let me summarize our Scripture readings today in a simple way. In our first reading from the OT we see that Jacob (that is, Israel) along with his family went down and dwelt in Egypt. God made a greater nation of him there, but that nation would prove unfaithful to the Lord – as we have proved unfaithful. So Christ enters in, the New Israel. In fleeing the murderous Herod, our young Lord goes to Egypt, that the prophecy might be fulfilled that “out of Egypt I have called my Son.” Jesus is Israel reduced to one. He brings to perfection what old Israel could not and would not do.

Jesus is the faithful Israel, the embodiment of the people of God. He offers His perfect and holy life in place of our own. Even in His infancy, this morning we see Him submitting to persecution and suffering in order to save us. Because the boy who escaped Bethlehem’s bloody streets unscathed went on to face the thorns, nails, and spear for St. Stephen, for the Bethlehem babies, and for us all. To save us, to redeem us, to make all things new by the blood of the cross.

Therefore, St. Peter in our epistle gives us some encouragement here, some realistic expectations about Christmas – about the Christian life and all we experience. Peter says, “Don’t think it strange when we who are IN CHRIST experience trials because of the holy faith into which we are baptized. Instead, we rejoice to share in Christ’s sufferings, knowing that we will also share in His glory.”

So no. Christmas is not all warm fuzzies and good feelings. It never was. It’s about the Christ, His incarnation, His atoning death, His saving us from sin, death, and hell and rescuing us from the brokenness of our own lives. And calling us finally to Himself and His glorious Kingdom.

The season of Christmas must always be about the one who lies in the manger, who gives life to the world, by being lifted up on a cross. A Lutheran dogmatist once remarked that the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross were fashioned from the same tree. That’s a great thought to keep Christmas in perspective. Our Lord was born so that He could die. But in that glorious death, He gives life to the world.   

So again, how was your Christmas? Well, just ask yourself this. Was the manger full? Yes, it was! Was the tomb empty? Yes, it was! That’s proof positive that Christmas was just perfect – a Merry Christmas – and just the way it should be, with Christ at the center and His gifts of salvation before your eyes. In the name of Jesus.