First Sunday After Christmas
December 29, 2019
“Right In A World Of Wrong”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five golden rings…four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.” Today, according to how some count the Twelve Days of Christmas, is the fifth day. 25, 26, 27, 28, 29. I hope your true love gave you five rings of gold today – you’d be a millionaire!!
But I want to tell you what the Christian Church has put on the Church Calendar during these Twelve Days of Christmas. On the second day of Christmas, December 26, the Christian Church has long recognized the martyrdom of St. Stephen. You’ll find his account in Acts 6-7. Stephen, after a sermon that no body liked, was stoned to death. (Preachers better watch what they say, right?) While he was being murdered, he prayed a prayer much like his Savior, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60) On December 26 the day is “St. Stephen, Martyr”. That is the second day of Christmas.
The fourth day of Christmas, yesterday, December 28, is called “The Holy Innocents”. The church has not forgotten the children who were massacred in the area around Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus. King Herod had been visited by the Magi some time following the birth of Jesus. We read about this is Matthew 2, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’” (Verses 1-2) After learning that the place for the Christ to be born was Bethlehem, Herod gave these orders, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8)
Herod was evil. He hated anyone and anything that posed a threat to his place and power. There was but one king and he was it. No child being born in Bethlehem was going to take his throne. The Magi never came back to Jerusalem to report seeing the Christ. They got out of town…and fast. This is what Herod then did, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16)
Right in the midst of all of this Christmas joy, right in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the fourth day, December 28, yesterday, was “The Holy Innocents”. There were probably dozens of little boys who died because of the evil of Herod. We shake our heads that we live in a world where such wrong can happen.
But not everyone believes the Biblical account of the murder of the Holy Innocents. One church leader, a bishop in his church denomination, said that Herod’s massacre of the newborn infants couldn’t have happened. So it was good to read another bishop (N.T. Wright) who replied to him, “It is, frankly, incredible to me that someone living in the century of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot should find it difficult to believe that rulers can slaughter children for their own political ends. Furthermore, everything we know about Herod the Great suggests that he was exactly the sort of man who would have had all the babies in a particular village executed if he had had the slightest suspicion that anyone was talking about a future king being born there.” (Pulpit Resource, December 27, 1998, Pages 55-56)
What we have is a world of wrong. It is wrong to kill a person for words that they are speaking. It is wrong to take the life of the littlest of children because they may be a threat to our place in life.
Evil was persistent then and now. The devil was going to end the life of a Savior before the actions of redemption could even begin. But God was going to do what was right even in the midst of evil. In John 3 St. John says the same, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done though God.” (John 3:19-21)
In the Old Testament, Joseph, was despised by his brothers because he had become his father’s favorite. They sold him into slavery and thought on the day when that transaction happened that would be the last they would ever see of him. My, did they ever get a surprise!! Years later when his brothers sought relief from a famine in Canaan, the land where they lived, they headed to Egypt and were assisted by their brother, Joseph, whom God had protected and who rose to an important position in Egypt. During their coming for help he revealed he who was. They were frightened by him – they thought he would seek revenge. They brought evil to him and they expected to be paid back in the same way. But he brought them mercy and forgiveness instead. He told them that even in their plan of evil God’s hand was still present. He told his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid, I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21)
Right, in a world of wrong. That is what we see in the Bible. Joseph forgiving his brothers. Jesus and his parents finding refuge in Egypt. How about the day when Christ was crucified, and they placed these words over His head, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37) Those that wrote that sign meant it for evil, as a mocking title, He meant it for good and salvation and a true Kingdom of Grace.
Do you see it in your life? God, in the midst of evil, is persistent in bringing His truth and light and purpose. It was the right thing for God to send Jesus as our Savior. It was the right thing for Him to cover our sins and make us clean and ready for a New Year. It was right that He rose from death telling us of our eternal day and the time when we will be resurrected. It is the right thing, the merciful thing, to call us to true repentance and a seeking after Him.
We are also called to speak the right word in a world that has too much wrong. We are light in the midst of darkness. The fourth Day of Christmas, the day of the Holy Innocents, recognizes that they were the first martyrs for the Christian Faith. The word martyr also means witness. Though very few Christians in the United States will lose their life because they confess Christ, all of us are called to be faithful witnesses of God. We are to do right in a world of wrong.
Peter instructs us in this way, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (I Peter 4:12-16)
When the leaders of the church chose dates for various events to be recognized they did it with some thought. Christmas is the time of great joy. The Epiphany, January 6, is the celebration of God’s light, His truth, being revealed for all people – Jew and Gentile. Epiphany is the Gentile’s Christmas. So what do you have in the midst of all that is right and good and holy? The reality of suffering, martyrdom – St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents. That wasn’t an accident that all these days are together.
Right has come into a world of wrong then, and now. Praise God that “light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it”. (John 1:5)
Live knowing that God is always doing right in a world of wrong. Amen!!