Reading Ramblings – December 29, 2013

Date:  First Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2013

Texts:  Isaiah 63:7-14; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:13-23

Context: The Gospel lesson for this morning is a heartbreaking reminder of the seriousness of the birth of Christ.  We attempt to sentimentalize the birth of Christ, to reduce it to Hallmark cards and sanitize it for mass consumption.  But the reality of the birth of the Son of God is far more real and complex.  The powers of evil move to crush God’s victor and Son while he is most helpless and defenseless, and as all too often happens, people in the wrong place at the wrong time are broken and cast aside.  We must never forget that the coming of the Son of God into our world is a move of great power and intent by our God, the opening gambit to crush the powers of sin, death, and Satan forever.  Satan will not sit idly by and watch his power overturned. 

Isaiah 63:7-14 —God works through his Law and his Gospel.  His Law crushes the sinner and destroys evil, while the Gospel promises forgiveness to the repentant and the victory of God in reconciling creation to himself.  Isaiah 63 opens in a scene of violent judgment as the Lord crushes the surrounding nations in righteous destruction.  Verse 7 signifies a shift—the hearer is not to fear this Lord in his righteous fury because of the relationship between this God and his people.  This God has given goodness to his people, going so far as to be afflicted for and with them (v.9), a reference to the suffering of the Incarnate Son of God. 

Yes, there were times when God’s people rejected him, requiring once again his righteous law to convict and condemn (v.10).  Yet the Lord’s goal always is mercy, and is demonstrated in his ages-old love and care for his people, as signified in the central event of the Old Testament, the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt in the Exodus.  We need not fear this God, but trust his mercy and forgiveness.

Psalm 111— This psalm of praise declares various reasons for praising the Lord, leading the hearer to engage in that very praise themselves.  This psalm is used in communal worship (v.1) and begins by calling the assembled to praise God for his marvelous works of nature (vs.2-3).  More than this though, God is to be praised because of his care for his people (vs.4-8), culminating in his salvation of his people under his eternal covenant promises (v.9).  Our praise reaches a crescendo in this verse, before being reassured that to fear the Lord—to follow him and obey him and love him and worship him—is the source of all true wisdom.   He has given us his Word that we might grow wise and understand properly, for which He alone is to be praised yet again!

Galatians 4:4-7 — Paul neatly connects the dots for the church in Galatia and for us today.  The incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth is the means by which you and I are freed from slavery to sin and adopted by God the Father as sons and daughters of the King.  We are in a new relationship with God the Father precisely because of the obedience incarnate of God the Son.  We are free—and our freedom and our relationship as the children of God entitle us to an intimate relationship with him characterized by familial closeness rather than fear and uncertainty.  We need not wonder at God’s intentions towards us—his intention is that we should inherit through Jesus eternal life as heirs of God the Father. 

Matthew 2:13-23 —The slaughter of the innocents, as this event is called, is a powerful reminder that the baby in the manger is a real threat to the powers and principalities of this world.  Satan as the prince of this world recognizes the threat that this baby poses, and orchestrates the worldly powers under his influence to try and destroy this young child.  The juxtaposition of the might of worldly military power sent against a toddler, wielded mercilessly against defenseless children is a reminder that Jesus is a threat to every human and spiritual power in this world. 

Are we saddened and shocked at the values we have taken for granted and held dear are now being deposed by our culture?  Are we stunned to find ourselves maligned, the focus of ridicule and anger and revenge?  Look no farther than this passage in Matthew 2 to see that this has always been the case.  The world must hate Jesus, because Jesus comes to transform and overthrow the powers of this world.  His kingship admits no peers, no equals, and certainly no superiors.  He cannot be bribed, influenced, blackmailed, or resisted.  He is the perfect, ultimate threat to every human being or institution that insists on maintaining their power. 

We should not be amazed—but we should not give up hope, either.  The children of Bethlehem are corpses, but the work of God the Father through God the Son continues, and those corpses will live again!  Satan and the powers of this world could not succeed in destroying the Son of God as a child, and they certainly cannot do so today now that he awaits his return at the right hand of God the Father!  Not that the powers of the world won’t try! 

We should expect to be maligned, mistreated and mocked.  We need not enjoy it, but we dare not resist it through the same techniques used against us.  We are called to stand firm, to love our enemies, to pray for them, just as our Lord did as they mocked him, battered and nearing death by crucifixion.  The world may succeed in killing our traditions and rituals and even our bodies, just as it succeeded in crucifying Jesus.  But the world’s success is short-lived.  Victory has already been determined in the empty tomb.  We trust that our tombs as well will be empty one day.  The Herod’s and other powers and principalities of this world that act in opposition to the Kingdom of God will one day stand in judgment.  It is they who need our prayers, because their danger is real and not confined to a matter of a single lifetime. 

 

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